IOC: We Can't Provide 'Absolute Certainty' on Peng Shuai amid Concerns for Safety

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIDecember 8, 2021

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23: Shuai Peng of China plays a backhand during her Women's Doubles first round match with partner Shuai Zhang of China against Veronika Kudermetova of Russia and Alison Riske of the United States on day four of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The International Olympic Committee said that it cannot provide any certainties regarding the well-being of tennis player Peng Shuai, whose safety is being called into question after she publicly said that a former Chinese government official sexually assaulted her.

"We can't provide you with absolute certainty on anything," IOC spokesman Mark Adams said in a news conference Tuesday.

"All we can do is do the best we can in the process that we believe is in the best interests of the well-being of the athlete."

Peng said on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, that Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Zhang is a retired vice premier whom CNN.com previously described as "the face of China's organizing efforts ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics."

"Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?" Peng wrote.

"I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you said you were not afraid. But even if it's just me, like an egg hitting the stone, a moth flying into flames, courting self-destruction, I would tell the truth about us."

Per Alexander Smith of NBC News, the post was deleted within minutes.

There was no word from Peng for 15 days after the post until this statement was released on Nov. 17 through China Global Television Network, which is part of the state-owned media organization China Central Television:

CGTN @CGTNOfficial

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has sent an email to Steve Simon, the WTA Chairman &amp; CEO, CGTN has learned. The email reads: <a href="https://t.co/uLi6Zd2jDI">pic.twitter.com/uLi6Zd2jDI</a>

Unverified videos showed Peng at a tennis match and eating dinner out with others allegedly nearly three weeks after her initial Weibo post:

Hu Xijin 胡锡进 @HuXijin_GT

Peng Shuai showed up at the opening ceremony of a teenager tennis match final in Beijing on Sunday morning. Global Times photo reporter Cui Meng captured her at scene. <a href="https://t.co/7wlBcTMgGy">pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy</a>

Hu Xijin 胡锡进 @HuXijin_GT

I acquired two video clips, which show Peng Shuai was having dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows they are shot on Saturday Beijing time. <a href="https://t.co/HxuwB5TfBk">pic.twitter.com/HxuwB5TfBk</a>

IOC President Thomas Bach also had a 30-minute video call with Peng on Nov. 21. An IOC article covering the call reads:

"At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being. 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. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much."

The WTA remained unconvinced of her safety and has suspended all tournaments in China for the foreseeable future.

"Chinese officials have been provided the opportunity to cease this censorship, verifiably prove that Peng is free and able to speak without interference or intimidation, and investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner," WTA President Steve Simon wrote in part in his statement Wednesday.

He added: "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."

Adams said Bach and Peng are meeting for dinner in January in Beijing, where the Winter Olympics are scheduled to be held February 4-20. He also said the IOC doesn't have a complete picture regarding Peng's safety and whereabouts.

"We can't give assurances and we don't know the full facts. It's a full road map to at least attempt to keep in touch and to see where she is."

Peng's tennis resume includes a World No. 1 ranking in doubles, making her the first Chinese player to earn a No. 1 spot in singles or doubles play. She has two singles and 22 doubles titles and also rose as high as No. 14 in the singles rankings.

Peng has two Grand Slam doubles titles (2013 Wimbledon, 2014 French Open) and reached the 2014 U.S. Open in singles play.