Joe MacDonald | Associated Press
BEIJING – Missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai told Olympic officials during a video call from Beijing that she was fine, the International Olympic Committee said Sunday after Peng appeared again in public at the Beijing Youth Tournament, according to photos. published by the organizer.
The 30-minute call came amid growing global alarm about Peng after she accused a former leading Communist Party official of sexual assault. The ruling Chinese Communist Party has tried to suppress fears abroad by suppressing information in China about Peng.
Calling Sunday – with IOC President Thomas Bach, Athletes Commission Chair Emma Terho and IOC Member Li Lingwei, former Vice President of the China Tennis Association – Peng seems to be Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside of China since she disappeared from view public in November. 2.
Peng “thanked the IOC for caring for its well-being,” the Swiss Olympic Organization said in a statement.
“She explained that she is safe and healthy, living in her home in Beijing, but would like her privacy to be respected at this time. This is why she prefers to spend time with friends and family right now, ”the statement said.
Peng, who played for China in three Olympics from 2008 to 2016, three weeks ago on Chinese social media filed a sexual assault charge against former member of the ruling Standing Committee of the Communist Party Zhang Gaoli.
The post was removed in minutes and the former top doubles player went missing. She has not publicly responded to calls for information to show that she is safe.
Peng adds to the growing number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party leaders or in the course of the crackdown on corruption or campaigns for democracy and workers’ rights.
Some show up weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting that they are being warned not to disclose that they have been detained or why.
Photos of Peng, posted Sunday at the China Open event on social media Weibo, did not mention her disappearance or her accusations. The former Wimbledon champion was shown standing by the court waving and signing huge commemorative tennis balls for the kids.
Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to calls for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, a prestigious event for the Communist Party. The Women’s Pro Tour has threatened to pull the tournament out of China if the safety of the former # 1 doubles player is not ensured.
Previously, the IOC remained silent about Peng’s status, which has competed in three Olympics, helping to contribute multimillion-dollar income to the IOC from broadcasts and sponsorships.
The declared policy of the Olympic organization is “quiet diplomacy”. On Saturday, the IOC said it will “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Chinese Olympic Movement.”
The discussion on Peng’s charge has been removed from websites in China. A government spokesman on Friday denied knowing about the protest. The ruling party’s internet filters also block most people in China from viewing other social networks overseas and most global news outlets.
Comments on Chinese social media on Sunday criticized the Women’s Tennis Association and others who talked about Peng. Chinese-language comments on Twitter made fun of Peng’s awkward posting of photos and videos by state media officials this weekend, while the government remained silent.
“When will WTA leave China?” said in a comment on social networking site Sina Weibo, signed “Sleep time.”
Peng’s appearance on Sunday was mentioned in the latest sentence of the tournament’s coverage on the website of the English-language Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling party aimed at foreign readers but not immediately reported by other media in China.
Global Times editor Hu Xijin on Twitter, which is not seen by most Internet users in China, said on Saturday that Peng “lived freely in her own home” and would soon “appear in 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.
A Twitter comment signed by bobzhang999 read, “Hu Dog, with so many photos, why don’t you let Peng Shuai talk?”
Another, signed by the Wizard, said, “Let Peng Shuai’s parents hold a press conference.”
The tennis and WTA stars clamored for information about Pan with extraordinary loudness. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliation.
The ruling party has given no indication as to whether it is investigating Peng’s indictment against 75-year-old Gao, who left the ruling Communist Party Standing Committee in 2018 and virtually disappeared from public life.
Even if Peng’s accusation is deemed well-founded, people in China are often jailed or face other punishments for embarrassing the party by publishing complaints of abuse, rather than going through a secret, often unanswered official system.
The status of star athletes like Peng is especially sensitive. State media celebrate their victories as proof that the party is making China strong. But the party is careful to ensure that they cannot use their prominence and public appeal to undermine their image.
Steve Simon, chairman and CEO of the WTA, raised concerns about Peng’s safety after Hu, the newspaper’s editor, posted two videos on Saturday that appeared to be shown to her at a restaurant.
“While it is pleasant to see her, it remains unclear whether she is free and can make decisions and act on her own, without coercion or outside interference. This video alone is not enough, ”said Simon. “Our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”
On Saturday, the IOC said it will “continue our open dialogue at all levels with the Chinese Olympic Movement.”
When asked about human rights in China two weeks ago, a senior IOC member, Juan Antonio Samaranch, said that “we are not discussing anything with the Chinese government” about this.
The IOC has previously stated that its partner in organizing the Winter Games is the local organizing committee and not the Chinese state. This committee is controlled by the Communist Party.
Emma Terho, newly elected head of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, which is responsible for representing the interests of Olympic athletes, said in a statement Saturday that “we support the quiet diplomacy approach” endorsed by the IOC.
Last week, the foreign subsidiary of state television issued a statement in English attributed to Peng, which dropped the charges against Zhang. WTA’s Simon questioned its legitimacy, while others said it only heightened their concerns about her safety.
AP sportswriter Graham Dunbar of Geneva contributed to this report.