Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai tells Olympic director she is confident in video calls, but concerns remain

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The Women’s Tennis Association said on Monday that they were still worried about Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai despite a video call she made with the president of the International Olympic Committee.

There has been a growing international concern for Peng, a former top-ranked double player, since she disappeared from the public eye after accuses a former Chinese official of sexual assault. Photographs and videos said to show Peng at a restaurant and children’s tennis tournament in Beijing, released by Chinese state media journalists and tournament organizers over the weekend, have done little to alleviate fears for her safety.

“It was good to see Peng Shuai in the latest videos, but they do not alleviate or address the WTA’s concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” a WTA spokesman told NBC News.

The spokesman said Peng’s talks with the IOC “do not change our demand for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, of her allegations of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

Peng had met in a 30-minute video conference with IOC President Thomas Bach and two other IOC officials to discuss her safety. announced the organization on Sunday. It is unclear when the call took place.

“She explained that she is safe and well, living in her home in Beijing, but that she would like her privacy to be respected by now,” the IOC said. “That’s why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.”

Emma Terho, chair of the IOC’s sports committee, said that Peng seemed to be “well” during the conversation.

“She seemed relaxed,” Terho said. “I offered her our support and to keep in touch at any time for her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach talks to Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai in a video call. Greg Martin / IOC via AFP – Getty Images

Tennis stars around the world have expressed concern about Peng over the past week, circulating the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai on social media. They had feared for her safety after she claimed it Zhang Gaoli, a former deputy prime minister in her 70s, sexually assaulted her during an otherwise on-off relationship while on duty.

Peng made the accusation on November 2 in a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter. It was quickly deleted and the debate on social media seemed to be crushed by censors.

Zhang was once one of China’s most powerful officials under President Xi Jinping. He retired in 2018 and was not available for comment on the subject.

NBC News did not see the post before it was deleted from Peng’s account, which has more than half a million followers. It was not clear if she deleted the post or if it was deleted by China’s censors.

Last week, Chinese state television issued a statement in English attributed to Peng, withdrawing her accusation against Zhang.

Some of biggest names in tennis, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic, sounded the alarm after noting that Peng had not been seen in public since she made the allegations.

The White House is “deeply concerned about reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing,” said press secretary Jen Psaki at a news briefing on Friday. The UN has also demanded proof of Peng’s whereabouts and well-being as well as an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied last week that he was aware of the outcry.

Steve Simon, president of the Women’s Tennis Association, or WTA, said last week that he had received an email from Peng saying she was home and resting, not missing. But Simon doubted the authenticity of the email, saying that he “repeatedly tried to reach her through several different forms of communication, without success.”

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believe what is attributed to her,” Simon said, adding that the world needs “independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.”

In a separate statement After Chinese state media released the video allegedly showing Peng at a restaurant in Beijing, Simon said the WTA’s relationship with China “stands at a crossroads.”

“Although it is positive to see her, it is still unclear whether she is free and can make decisions and take action on her own, without coercion or external interference,” he said. “This video alone is insufficient.”

Peng is one of China’s biggest tennis stars in recent years, having won double titles at Wimbledon and the French Open in 2013 and 2014.

Her situation highlights a growing problem for sports organizations trying to balance China’s huge commercial opportunities with concerns over Beijing’s much-criticized results in terms of human rights and censorship.

Simon told CNN last week that the WTA would consider withdrawing tens of millions of dollars worth of tournaments from China unless Peng is accountable and her allegations are fully investigated.

“This is bigger than the business,” he said. “Women must be respected and not censored.”

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