Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai tells International Olympic Committee she is ‘safe and well’ in video call
Jerry Lai/USA Today

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai tells International Olympic Committee she is ‘safe and well’ in video call

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a video phone call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, the Olympics governing body announced on Sunday, amid a wave of global concern about Peng’s wellbeing and whereabouts.

The two were accompanied on the video call by a Chinese sports official, Li Lingwei, as well as the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho. The IOC did not provide CNN access to the video.

The video comes after Peng, one of China’s most recognizable sports stars, publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.

She has not been directly seen in public since the accusation, prompting several fellow tennis players express worry on social media, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

The Women’s Tennis Association and the United Nations have called for an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.

According to the IOC statement, Peng thanked the committee for its concern about her well-being and insisted that she is “safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.”

The call, which reportedly lasted lasted 30-minutes, appears to be Peng’s first known direct contact with officials outside of China since making the allegations.

“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” said Terho. “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.”

Also according to the IOC, Peng accepted an invitation to have dinner with Bach and Terho as well as Li — a former director and Communist Party secretary of Tennis Administration Center of General Administration of Sport of China — in January, ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Following the IOC statement saying Bach had spoken with Peng, a spokesperson for the WTA said it was not enough to “alleviate or address the WTA’s concern.”

“It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” the spokesperson told CNN in a statement.

“This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

Steve Simon, the head of the WTA, has also called for more robust proof of Peng’s liberty. In a letter to China’s Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang, Simon requests that she either be allowed to leave the country or speak live via teleconference with him and no one else present.

His demand came as several people connected to Chinese state media and sport system tweeted photos and videos they say show Peng out to dinner on Saturday and at a tennis event for teenagers in Beijing on Sunday.

Throughout the videos Peng says very little but is seen smiling. CNN cannot independently verify the video clips or confirm when they were filmed.

Though Simon expressed relief at seeing Peng in these clips, he said his concerns remained.

“It remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference,” Simon said.

Peng’s explosive sexual assault allegations, made in a post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, were deleted within 30 minutes of publication, and any mention of the accusation online was quickly erased.

Until Chinese state media released the videos over the weekend, Peng had not been seen in public for about three weeks, leading to global outcry.

Beijing faced growing international pressure to show proof of her well-being, including from the United Nations, the US government, and the world’s biggest tennis stars.

Simon, the WTA chief, said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations not properly investigated.

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