IOC Says It Had 2nd Video Call with Peng Shuai amid Concern For Her Safety

Tim Daniels@@TimDanielsBRFeatured Columnist IVDecember 2, 2021

China's Peng Shuai reacts while competing against Canada's Eugenie Bouchard in their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. The disappearance of tennis star Peng Shuai in China following her accusations of sexual assault against a former top Communist Party official has shined a spotlight on similar cases involving political dissidents, entertainment figures, business leaders and others who have run afoul of the authorities. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein

The International Olympic Committee said it held a second video call with tennis player Peng Shuai and scheduled a personal meeting for January amid concerns about her safety.

Reuters provided a statement from the IOC about Peng, whose wellbeing came into question after she accused former Chinese government official Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in a post on social media in November.

"We share the same concern as many other people and organizations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her," the IOC said Thursday. "We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January."

The IOC added Peng appeared "safe and well given the difficult situation she is in."

After questions were raised about Peng's whereabouts last month, a state-run media outlet in China released a statement purportedly from the former top-ranked doubles player that only raised further concerns about her safety:

Kris Cheng @krislc

A statement “from Peng Shuai” and carried by Chinese state media, saying “everything is fine”… where have we seen similar things before? <a href="https://t.co/GvQA3fbCTI">pic.twitter.com/GvQA3fbCTI</a>

WTA chairman Steve Simon said the Tour needed more information about Peng's status or it would remove events scheduled to be hosted there in the future. With Chinese authorities failing to meet those requests, Simon moved forward with that plan Wednesday by suspending all WTA activity in the country.

Simon explained "China's leaders have left the WTA with no choice" and said he hoped the action would lead the country's government to "take steps to legitimately address this issue:"

"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded—equality for women—would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.
"As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault. Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."

Meanwhile, the 2022 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in the Chinese capital of Beijing in February, which is likely why access to Peng has been provided to the IOC, which previously spoke with her in late November.

"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. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now," the IOC said in a statement after the first meeting.

Peng, 35, most recently played on the WTA Tour in February 2020 at the Qatar Open. She's a two-time Grand Slam champion in doubles (2013 Wimbledon Championships and 2014 French Open) and also reached the semifinals of the 2014 U.S. Open in singles.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry, previously said the country's government is "not aware" of any information regarding Peng's status because it's "not a diplomatic question."