It appears as though Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has been at the center of an international controversy after high-profile leaders in the sport raised concerns about her well-being, may be safe and sound.
As we’ve been reporting, the three-time Olympian, who has been one of the best tennis players in the world during her long career, was the subject of global worry about her well-being over the last several weeks. All this came about after she publicly accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her at his home, according to a since-deleted social media post she published back on November 2.
On Sunday, the controversy appeared to die down some after the tennis pro held a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach. According to CNN, the two were also accompanied on the 30-minute-long video call by Chinese sports official Li Lingwei, and the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho. The call is significant, as it’s the first known direct contact Peng has had with officials outside of China since making the allegations nearly three weeks ago.
The IOC did not make the video call public to the American media, but they did release a statement with what they claim were some of the contents of the call itself.
Judging by the Olympic org’s public words on the matter, it sounds like they believe Peng to be safe and secure in China:
“[Peng] 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. In the 30-minute conversation, she was very clear in confirming that she is safe and well. She also mentioned that she will be taking part in some activities with friends and family, and will continue to be involved in tennis. … We also made it clear that she could get in touch whenever she deems it appropriate, and we will also continue to remain in contact with the Chinese Olympic Committee.”
Terho doubled down on the IOC’s assertion that Peng appears to be OK, adding her observations of the conversation:
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern. She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
Furthermore, Peng apparently accepted an invitation to have dinner with Bach and Terho — with Li scheduled to be in attendance, too — in January, ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Not all officials are as convinced as Bach and the IOC about Peng’s alleged safety, though.
Steve Simon, the head of the Women’s Tennis Association who already spoke out once over the weekend on Peng’s well-being, issued a skeptical statement in response to the new video call:
“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. 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.”
Of course, Simon makes a valid point there.
After all, Li is a Chinese government official and former director of the General Administration of Sport of China, so her presence on the call and at the future dinner clearly serves government interests… Yeah.
Here’s more on the new conference call from WION News, including a screenshot of what appears to be an image of Bach and Peng connecting via video:
Tennis superstars including Serena Williams and Roger Federer have spoken out in support of Peng recently, so it’s clear her situation has touched a nerve within that community and out in the broader world.
Let’s just hope Peng truly is safe and secure, and remains so even after the global reaction to her initial allegations dies down.
[Image via Oscar Gonzalez/WENN]