Olympics director holds video call with missing Chinese tennis star



The president of the International Olympic Committee said he spoke with Peng Shuai in the latest attempt to allay growing international concerns over the Chinese tennis star’s welfare.

Thomas Bach said he held a 30-minute video call with Peng on Sunday, with the IOC saying she was “safe and healthy” in Beijing but that she “would like her privacy to be respected in this regard. moment”.

Before Sunday, Peng had not been seen or heard since early November after alleged via social media that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had assaulted her at least once. She also claimed that she had a long-standing affair with the powerful official.

Peng’s social media post from November 2 describing his allegations against Zhang has not been verified. The post was immediately deleted, and all mentions of it by others were blocked by Chinese censors.

Earlier this weekend, Chinese state media published videos allegedly showing Peng Shuai in public, trying to allay concerns about his fate.

The IOC had been the subject of strong criticism for not having used its influence before to intervene in this matter, before the Winter Games which will be held in Beijing next year.

Olympics organizers said Emma Terho, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, also joined the call with Bach. “She seemed to be relaxed,” Terho said. “I offered her our support and to keep in touch.

The IOC said Peng also accepted an invitation to dinner with Bach, Terho and Li Lingwei, a former Olympic badminton champion, in January. Li, who joined the call, has known Peng for many years, the IOC said.

Peng’s case has drawn wide attention to China’s authoritarian practices of censorship, enforced disappearances, and suppressing women’s rights activism.

Hu Xijin, editor of the nationalist newspaper Global Times, posted on Twitter videos of the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger event held in Beijing on Sunday morning.

A 37-second clip showed Peng on the court alongside tennis officials. She smiled and waved after her name was introduced. Hu said the video was shot by a Global Times reporter.

A few hours earlier, Hu posted two more videos, claiming that they showed Peng having dinner at a restaurant on Saturday with his trainer and friends.

“For the past few days, she has stayed at home freely and she didn’t want to be disturbed,” he said in a statement. separate tweet.

Shen Shiwei, an employee of state television, posted a video of Peng signing autographs at the event. He had previously tweeted photos of the athlete surrounded by toys and claimed that they were shared by her friends.

The Financial Times could not verify the authenticity of the images or videos.

Steve Simon, general manager of the Women’s Tennis Association, said the video of the dinner was “insufficient” to prove Peng’s safety.

“While it is positive to see her, it is still unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and acting on her own, without coercion or outside interference. . . As I have said from the start, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the sexual assault allegation is being censored and swept under the rug, ”he said.

The episode comes as calls to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, due to begin in February, mount in protest against human rights violations in Xinjiang.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday that the United States was “deeply concerned” about Peng and called on Chinese authorities to “provide independent and verifiable proof of his plight and that she is safe”.

The biggest stars of professional tennis, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, have joined the WTA to publicly support Peng, a former prominent doubles player. There were numerous calls not only for the safety of the 35-year-old woman to be guaranteed, but also for her allegations against Zhang to be investigated.

Simon, who suggested the association might be willing to withdraw from events in China, added: “I have been clear on what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

Zhang, now retired and 40 years older than Peng, joined the Chinese Communist Party’s most powerful organ, the Politburo Standing Committee, in 2012. Peng’s detailed accusations against a senior official are unprecedented in China and remain censored.

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