Peng, 35, wrote a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, alleging sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of China’s former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli. Peng claimed Zhang, 75, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago.
The post was quickly deleted and Peng disappeared from social media and public view for two weeks. Tennis players and officials, led by Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) CEO Steve Simon, are demanding a full investigation into Peng’s claims as well as assurances of her safety and wellbeing.
IOC President Thomas Bach speaks with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai via video call on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. (Courtesy the International Olympics Committe)
Beijing released videos and pictures of Peng making limited public appearances over the past few days, culminating in a conversation Sunday between Peng, IOC President Thomas Bach, IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho, and IOC Member in China Li Lingwei. This would be the first visual contact between Peng and any foreign entity since her initial allegations and disappearance.
Peng thanked the committee for its concern and explained she is “safe and well” in her home in Beijing and would like her privacy respected.
Terho said the committee was “relieved” to see Peng was fine and “appeared relaxed.”
“I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated,” Terho said.
Peng Shuai’s disappearance may be part of President Xi Jinping’s cultural crackdown. (Getty Images)
Bach invited Peng to dine with him when he visits Beijing in January, which she accepted.
The IOC faced criticism for remaining largely quiet while U.S. tennis officials took a strong stance against Beijing: Simon threatened to pull all WTA tournaments from China, while the IOC engaged in what it called “quiet diplomacy” with the 2022 Olympics host nation, Newsweek reported.
The Beijing Winter Olympics start Feb. 4.
The IOC redirected all questions to its statement, and the WTA told Fox News “It was good to see Peng Shuai” but that it did not alleviate or address the WTA’s concerns.
FILE – WTA Chief Executive Officer Steve Simon smiles during a retirement ceremony for Martina Hingis in Singapore on Oct. 29, 2017. An email purportedly from a Chinese professional tennis player that a Chinese state media outlet posted on Twitter has increased concerns about her safety as the sport’s biggest stars and others abroad call for information about her well-being and whereabouts. Simon, the chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, questioned the authenticity of the email intended for him, in which Grand Slam doubles champion Peng Shuai says she is safe and that the assault allegation is untrue. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim, File)
The WTA stressed the need for Peng to speak “without censorship or coercion,” and highlighted that Beijing has not addressed the organization’s call for “a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship” into Peng’s allegation of sexual assault.
Beijing released multiple pictures and videos over the past few days as tennis officials and Western government officials applied increasing pressure.
Simon has threatened to pull the dozen or so WTA tournaments held in China each year if Beijing does not agree to a formal, independent investigation into Peng’s allegations even though that move could hurt tennis itself.
But Beijing continues to maintain that it is “unaware” of Peng’s situation. Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters Friday the matter was “not a diplomatic question, and I’m not aware of the situation” – a stance he has maintained whenever a reporter asks about Peng.