Asia - Pacific

New video call with Peng Shuai 'reconfirmed' she is safe, says Olympic body

IOC says Peng spoke to officials for 2nd time, WTA suspends China events as fears persist for tennis star's safety

Riyaz ul Khaliq and Can Erozden   | 02.12.2021
New video call with Peng Shuai 'reconfirmed' she is safe, says Olympic body


Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai held a second video call with Olympic officials that “reconfirmed” she is safe and well “given the difficult situation she is in,” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday.

The IOC said it is relying on “quiet diplomacy” and a “human and person-centered approach” to offer “wide-ranging support” to Peng.

The 35-year-old athlete, a three-time Olympian and one of China’s most prominent sports starts, disappeared from public view last month after accusing the country’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

The IOC statement came as the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) ramped up pressure on Beijing by declaring it will “immediately suspend” tournaments in the country because it does not want to “put players and staff at risk by holding events in China.”

The Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) criticized the “unilateral” decision as being “based on fictitious information.”

Expressing “indignation and firm opposition” to the move, the CTA said it would “severely harm female tennis players’ fair opportunities to compete,” state-run daily Global Times reported earlier on Thursday.

The country’s Foreign Ministry also weighed in on the issue, with spokesperson Wang Wenbin stressing that Beijing “has always been firmly opposed to the politicization of sports.”

Peng, a former doubles world number one, was not seen for two weeks after narrating the allegations against Zhang in a social media post on Nov. 2, which was quickly taken down by Chinese authorities.

As global calls for proof of her well-being grew, Chinese state media published an email purportedly penned by Peng, in which she retracted her claims against Zhang.

She held an online meeting with Olympic officials on Nov. 21, including International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, telling them that she was “safe and well.”

However, the WTA had dismissed the video meeting as “insufficient evidence” of Peng’s safety.

In his statement on Wednesday, WTA head Steve Simon said Chinese officials had been unable to “verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.”

He asserted that Peng was not being “allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault.”

“I very much regret it has come to this point … However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China,” said Simon.

“China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice. I remain hopeful that our pleas will be heard and the Chinese authorities will take steps to legitimately address this issue.”​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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