Peng Shuai: Olympic officials say they’ve been in contact
BEIJING – China’s missing tennis star Peng Shuai has told Olympic officials on a video call from Beijing that she is safe and healthy, the International Olympic Committee said on Sunday after Peng reappeared in public at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photos released by the organizers.
The 30-minute call comes amid growing global alarm about Peng after she accused a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault. China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to quell fears abroad while cracking down on information in China about Peng.
Sunday’s call – with IOC president Thomas Bach, athletes committee chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the China Tennis Association – appeared to be the first face-to-face of Peng with sports officials outside of China since her disappearance from the public. on November 2
Peng “thanks the IOC for taking care of her health,” the Switzerland-based Olympic body said in a statement.
“She explained that she is safe and healthy, living at her home in Beijing, but wants her privacy to be respected at this time. That’s why she likes to spend her time. to friends and family right now,” the statement said.
Peng, who played for China at three Olympics from 2008 to 2016, made sexual assault allegations on Chinese social media three weeks ago against a former member of the Standing Committee. ruling Communist Party, Zhang Gaoli.
That post was deleted within minutes, and the former top-ranked doubles player disappeared from public view. She did not publicly respond to calls providing information that she was safe.
An increasing number of Chinese businessmen, activists and citizens have disappeared in recent years, Peng said, after criticizing party figures or during crackdowns on corruption or pro-government campaigns. democracy and labor rights.
Some people reappeared weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they were warned not to reveal they had been detained or why.
Bach, the president of the IOC, invited Peng to a dinner when he arrived in Beijing in January “which she happily accepted”, the IOC said on Sunday. Terho and Li were also invited.
“I am relieved to see Peng Shuai doing well, which is our main concern,” Terho said in the IOC statement. Hockey players from Finland represent athletes on the IOC executive board.
“She seemed comfortable,” Terho said. “I’ve offered her our support and kept in touch at any time convenient for her, which she clearly appreciates.”
Peng’s photos posted Sunday by China Open on the social media service Weibo make no mention of her disappearance or accusations. The former Wimbledon champion stood by a court, waving and signing oversized children’s tennis balls.
Peng’s disappearance and official silence on calls for information prompted calls to boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, a prestigious event for the Party. Communism. The women’s professional tournament threatens to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former No. 1 doubles player is guaranteed.
The IOC has previously remained silent about Peng’s condition, helping to contribute to the IOC’s multi-million dollar revenue from broadcasting and sponsorship.
The Olympic organization’s stated policy is “quiet diplomacy.” The IOC said Saturday it would “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”
Discussion of Peng’s allegations has been removed from Chinese websites. A government spokesman on Friday denied knowing of the outcry. The ruling party’s internet filters also block most people in China from viewing other overseas social media and most global news outlets.
Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others for speaking out about Peng. Chinese-language comments on Twitter mocked the clumsily release of photos and videos of Peng by state media employees this weekend while the government kept quiet.
“When will the WTA get out of China?” said a comment on the social media service Sina Weibo, signed “Sleep Time”.
Peng’s appearance on Sunday was mentioned in the last sentence of a report on the tournament on the English-language website of the Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling party and aimed at foreign readers, but was not immediately covered by other media in China.
Editor of Global Times, Hu Xijin, said Saturday on Twitter, which most internet users in China can’t see is that Peng “is at home freely” and will soon “appear to the public”.
The Global Times is known for its nationalist tone. Hu uses his Twitter account to criticize foreign governments and point out social and economic problems abroad.
One comment on Twitter signed bobzhang999 said, “Hu Dog, with so many photos, why don’t you let Peng Shuai do the talking?”
Another Magician, signed, said, “Let Peng Shuai’s parents hold a press conference.”
Tennis stars and the WTA have been unusually vocal in their requests for information about Peng. Other sports companies and conglomerates are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliation.
The ruling party has given no indication that it is investigating Peng’s allegations against Gao, 75, who left the ruling Communist Party Standing Committee in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life. they.
Even if Peng’s accusations are found to be well-founded, Chinese people are often jailed or face other penalties for shaming the party by publicizing complaints of abuse on their behalf. because through the secret official system, often no response.
The status of star athletes like Peng is particularly sensitive. State media hailed their victory as proof the party was making China great. But the party is wary of making sure it cannot use its prominence and public appeal to undermine its image.
Steve Simon, President and CEO of WTA, expressed concern for Peng’s safety after Hu, the newspaper’s editor, posted two videos on Saturday showing her in a home row.
“While seeing her is positive, it remains unclear if she is free and can make decisions and actions on her own without coercion or outside interference. Video only. This is not enough,” said Simon. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
The IOC on Saturday said it would “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”
Asked two weeks ago about human rights in China, senior IOC member Juan Antonio Samaranch said “we don’t discuss anything with the Chinese government” on that topic.
The IOC has previously said that the organizing partner for the Winter Olympics is the local organizing committee, not the Chinese state. That committee is controlled by the Communist Party.
Emma Terho, the newly elected head of the IOC’s Athletes’ Committee whose mandate is to represent the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement Saturday that “we support this approach.” quiet diplomacy” favored by the IOC.
Last week, the foreign branch of the state broadcaster released an English-language statement attributed to Peng, withdrawing her accusations against Zhang. WTA’s Simon questioned its legitimacy while others said it only added to their concerns about her safety.
AP Sports writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.