The International Olympic Committee announced that president Thomas Bach spoke with Peng Shuai on a video call on Sunday amid concerns about the Chinese tennis star’s safety.
The announcement included an image of Bach speaking with Peng on a video screen alongside a statement from the IOC athletes’ commission chair Emma Terho, who was also on the call with Chinese IOC member Li Lingwei.
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” Terho said, per the statement. “She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
The announcement didn’t include a statement from Peng or video of the call. Per the IOC, Peng told Bach that she is “safe and well” and was living at her home in Beijing. She prefers to “have her privacy respected at this time” and plans to “continue to be involved in tennis,” according to the statement.
Chinese media videos claim to show Peng in public
Sunday’s IOC statement arrives amid a flurry of videos from Chinese state-run media purporting to show Peng having dinner with her friends Saturday night and appearing at a youth tennis match on Sunday.
Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy
— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 21, 2021
The videos haven’t been independently verified and didn’t provide evidence that they were taken recently. Women’s Tennis Association CEO Steve Simon cast doubt on their veracity.
“I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing,” Simon’s statement reads. “While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
Peng’s disappearance after allegation sparked international outcry
Peng hadn’t been seen in public since accusing retired Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into sex while she was a guest at his and his wife’s home for dinner around three years ago. She leveled the accusation on a Nov. 2 post on Chinese social media outlet Weibo. According to the post that was quickly deleted, she eventually agreed to an ongoing affair that Zhang insisted on keeping secret. Mentions of the allegation were scrubbed from Chinese-run social media.
The WTA called for an investigation into her allegations and her whereabouts on Nov. 14. Since then, members of the international tennis community including Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic, Serena Willams and Chris Evert joined the call for answers about Peng. The White House and the United Nations both called for proof on Friday of Peng’s safety and for an investigation into her sexual-assault allegation.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian has repeatedly denied that the government knows anything about the situation.
The IOC is under pressure to address the situation with the Winter Olympics scheduled to take place in Beijing in February. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that the United States was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics amid a history of human-rights concerns in China.
Sunday’s IOC statement was the first to address Peng’s safety independent of Chinese media. It didn’t include statements directly from Peng nor address her sexual assault allegation or why she hasn’t spoken publicly since making her accusation.