Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai’s video call with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) doesn’t address or alleviate the Women’s Tennis Association’s (WTA) concern about her well-being, the WTA said on Nov.22.
Global concerns about the former doubles world number one tennis player mounted following a rare, public sexual assault allegation she made against a retired top Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official on Nov. 2. The 1,500-character post was not visible on her verified Twitter-like Weibo account after around half an hour, and the 35-year-old player also disappeared from the public eye for almost three weeks.
Journalists of China’s state media, Global Times, posted photos and videos on Nov. 21, showing Peng’s smiling face at a children’s tennis tournament in Beijing. A day earlier, Hu Xijin, the tabloid’s editor in chief, posted video clips on Twitter, saying Peng was having dinner with her coach and friends.
But these efforts still failed 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 in an e-mail.
Asked about the call with the IOC, the spokeswoman said, “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 IOC said in a Sunday statement that Peng took part in a 30-minute call with its president Thomas Bach during which Peng said she was safe and well at home in Beijing and wanted to have her privacy respected for now.
The statement didn’t mention Peng’s sexual abuse allegations. Instead, it contains a photo of the video call taking place, which appeared to show Peng’s smiling face.
In her now-deleted comments, Peng accused the former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex several years ago, and they later had an on-and-off consensual relationship.
“I couldn’t describe how disgusted I was … I feel like a walking corpse,” she wrote in the post.
The IOC’s contact with Peng comes as it prepares to stage the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. The Olympic body has been in the spotlight for pushing ahead the Games amid global rights groups’ and others’ concerns about the communist regime’s human rights violations, including against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.
“The IOC is entering dangerous waters,” said Amnesty International’s China researcher Alkan Akad on Monday, according to Reuters. “They should be extremely careful not to participate in any whitewash of possible human rights violations.”
“In the past we have seen various similar cases where people had no option but to say what they had been told to,” he said.
In contrast to the IOC’s stance, the women’s professional tour decided to stand up to the regime, threatening to pull tournaments worth tens of millions of dollars out of China over the matter.
“I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads,” Steve Simon, the CEO of the WTA, said in a Sunday statement.
Global tennis communities, including Wimbledon (AELTC), and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), have joined the WTA’s campaign to call for clarity on Peng’s safety.
Most recently, Nicolas Mahut joined a group of players like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Naomi Osaka, who expressed concerns under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai on social media platforms. The French doubles player wrote “where is Peng Shuai” on a TV camera lens after he and his partner won the ATP World Tour Finals in Turin on Sunday.
The United Nations expressed concerns on Nov. 19, calling for a full investigation of Peng’s sexual abuse allegations. The United States and Britain also wanted real proof of Peng’s whereabouts. France’s foreign minister called on Sunday for Chinese authorities to let Peng speak publicly.
The Chinese regime hasn’t acknowledged or commented on the allegation, but discussions on the topic have been blocked on China’s heavily censored internet.
The ruling communist party has a record of silencing dissent in favor of so-called social stability. Rights activists, lawyers, or people who disclose the private lives of the CCP’s top leaders could be forced to disappear.
Reuters contributed to this report.