Peng Shuai: Tennis star tells IOC president she is safe
Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who fans feared had vanished after she made allegations against the country's former vice premier, has told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president that she is safe in a video call.
Former world number 14 Peng was again portrayed by Chinese state-affiliated accounts on Sunday, coming after footage of her in a restaurant, in which the date was repeatedly mentioned in an apparent attempt to prove the film was recently shot, emerged on Saturday.
Women's Tennis Association (WTA) boss Steve Simon said that the clips from the restaurant were "insufficient" evidence to prove Peng's safety, and many have again been left far from convinced after IOC boss Thomas Bach issued a statement about his chat with the 35-year-old.
"[She] was doing fine, which was our main concern," Bach said, with images of the purported meeting appearing to show Peng in the same soft toy-filled room from which photos were shown of her on Saturday – images that were again issued by state-linked media.
Video shot by my colleague Cui Meng at the National Tennis Center showing Peng Shuai signing signature on large-sized tennis balls at the opening ceremony of Junior Tennis Challenger Final, a way of inspiring more kids to play tennis as hobby and may also as career pic.twitter.com/Sbyj5V5a7Y— Qingqing_Chen (@qingqingparis) November 21, 2021
"At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing.
"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.
"She prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis."
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. pic.twitter.com/7wlBcTMgGy— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) November 21, 2021
Two more photos of Peng from the screenshot pic.twitter.com/N3vk5JEeJ5— Qingqing_Chen (@qingqingparis) November 21, 2021
Bach's words carry echoes of a widely-derided statement which was supposedly written by Peng and published via state-affiliated media after she initially appeared to vanish from the public eye for three weeks.
The statement effectively told people to question the WTA's concerns over her welfare and claimed that the troubling allegations she made against Zhang Gaoli, a 75-year-old former member of the Chinese communist party, were untrue.
The lengthy post about Zhang was removed from social network platform Weibo within half an hour of its initial publication.
Simon has insisted that the allegations should be taken seriously, but no mention of them has been made by Peng since her apparent reappearance.
It's on weibo, too. But, unfortunately, this appearance doesn't prove anything that Peng Shuai is free in her private life st all, because the government can force her to act this. pic.twitter.com/ilbkVlt9Rn— Little Turtle (@OgreTurtle) November 21, 2021
So CCTV is airing the IOC call with Peng Shuai. Seems legit pic.twitter.com/ewcpalsEZd— Professor Howitzer Balding 大老板 (@BaldingsWorld) November 21, 2021
"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference," Simon said in response to the restaurant footage.
The WTA has said that its relationship with China – its fastest-growing market – is at a crossroads over the scandal.
World number one Novak Djokovic has backed the potential withdrawal of events from China if the saga is not satisfactorily resolved.
Top stars including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams have also backed the campaign to ensure Peng's safety.