Controversy continues to surround Pang Shuai, whose welfare remains of global concern, despite her appearance in a Zoom video call with IOC President Thomas Bach on Sunday, in which she reportedly said she is ‘safe and well’ and asked for her privacy to be respected.
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. WTA Spokesperson
“She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time,” the IOC said in a statement. “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.
“Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”
Although the IOC appears to have been reassured over Peng’s safety, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon has said the call does not alleviate concerns about her well-being, particularly since no mention was made in the IOC statement regarding the sexual assault allegations raised by Peng.
The whereabouts of Peng, a former doubles World No 1, became a matter of international concern after she alleged, on 2 November on social media, that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her, and had not been seen since.
She eventually appeared at a dinner with friends on Saturday, and then at a junior tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday, in images and videos published by state-run Chinese media and by the tournament’s organisers, but did little to quell concerns.
“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,” a WTA spokeswoman said on Monday.
Asked about the call with the IOC, the spokeswoman added: “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.”
The fact that these allegations were not addressed at all in the call between Bach and Peng suggests that the player may have been coerced into making contact.
Bach was apparently joined on the call by IOC Athletes’ Commission Emma Terho and Li Lingwei, former badminton player and a Chinese IOC member, in which Peng reportedly thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being.
Terho, who had previously backed the IOC’s approach of ‘quiet diplomacy’, said she was ‘relieved’ that Peng ‘was doing fine’.
“I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated,” Terho added.
Bach invited Peng for a dinner when he arrives in Beijing for the Winter Olympics, and she reportedly accepted the offer.
Li, in addition to being an IOC member, is a Chinese Olympic Committee vice-president and has been a member of the National People’s Congress, which is China’s national legislature.
Among the concerns for Peng’s wellbeing has been that she is being coerced into towing the CCP line and Li’s presence on the video call gives it less credibility in the eyes of non-IOC observers.
Critics of the regime say China’s record on human rights makes it an unfit Olympic host, and the Peng case is likely to give rise to more criticism over how China handles dissent.
The IOC’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach comes in the build-up to the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games scheduled to begin on 4 February, 2022.
Simon has threatened to pull out of all 2022 WTA events hosted in China, should independent and undeniable evidence of Peng’s whereabouts and wellbeing are not provided, while concerns over Peng grow as global rights groups and others call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Hu Xijin, the editor of the state-owned newspaper Global Times who posted videos and photographs of Peng in Beijing, said on Twitter on Monday that her appearance should be enough to ease worries of ‘those who truly care about [the] safety of Peng Shuai’.
“But for those aiming to attack China’s system and boycott the Beijing Winter Olympics, facts, no matter how many, don’t work for them,” he said.
France’s foreign minister has now called for the Chinese authorities to let Peng speak publicly.
“I’m expecting only one thing: that she speaks,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told LCI television on Sunday, adding that there could be unspecified diplomatic consequences if China did not clear up the situation.
His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the IOC’s statement.
Both the United States and Great Britain have also called for China to provide proof of Peng’s whereabouts, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have joined the call for Peng’s safety to be confirmed.
“I follow the news and read the articles about Peng Shuai,” Nadal told L’Equipe on Saturday. “Even though I don’t have all the information, the most important thing is that she is okay.
“All of us in the tennis family hope to see her back with us soon.”
In a separate interview with Sky Italy shortly afterwards, Federer echoed his comments, saying: “I hope she is safe. We are all united around her.
“The tennis tour is my second family. I have been on the pro tour for 20-25 years so I am connected to every ATP and WTA player.”
While Wimbledon was initially silent on the situation, the All England Club released a statement on Saturday urging for her wellbeing to be confirmed, adding that they also had been working behind the scenes on the issue.
“We are united with the rest of tennis in the need to understand that Peng Shuai is safe.
“We have been working in support of the WTA’s efforts to establish her safety through our relationships behind the scenes,” the statement read.
“Along with the global tennis community, we would like Peng Shuai to know that her wellbeing is of the utmost importance to us, and we will continue to work to gain clarity on her safety.”