The Slatest

Chinese Tennis Star Peng Tells Olympic Officials She Is Safe in Video Call

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai signs large-sized tennis balls at the opening ceremony of Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Final in Beijing, China November 21, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video.
Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai signs large-sized tennis balls at the opening ceremony of Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Final in Beijing, China November 21, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. TWITTER @QINGQINGPARIS via REUTERS

UPDATE: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai held a video call with the president of the International Olympic Committee on Sunday and assured him she was safe and doing well. Peng held a 30-minute call with IOC president Thomas Bach and other officials on Sunday amid growing international pressure on Beijing to assure the tennis star was safe. The call came hours after photos released Sunday showed Peng at a tournament in Beijing but did little to quell concern about her safety. It marked her first public appearance since she seemingly vanished from public life after she accused a former senior Chinese official of sexually assaulting her.

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Peng began the call by thanking the Olympic organization for its concern. “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,” the IOC said in a statement. “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.” Bach invited Peng to join him for dinner when he will be in Beijing in January and “she gladly accepted,” the IOC said. “I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” said Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho, who joined Bach on the call.

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Original post at 9:38 a.m.: Footage that purports to show Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai at a tennis tournament on Sunday did little to quell the international outcry over her whereabouts and safety after she accused a senior leader of sexual assault. Official photos published by the tournament organized by China Open shows Peng among guests at the tournament. The post on social media made no mention of the questions surrounding Peng, who had not been seen publicly since she said on social media on Nov. 2 that former vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. Peng’s name immediately vanished from Chinese social media after he accusation, leading many tennis officials and star players to demand answers about the whereabouts of the three-time Olympian and former Wimbledon champion.

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The photos and videos of Peng that were released Sunday are “insufficient” to address concerns about the tennis stars safety, a spokesperson for the Women’s Tennis Association said. The International Tennis Federation has also said it will continue to push for more concrete answers on Peng. “Our primary concern is Peng Shuai’s safety and her well-being,” ITF President Dave Haggerty said. “The videos of her this weekend appear to be a positive step, but we will continue to seek direct engagement and confirmation from Peng Shuai herself that she is safe and well.”

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The photos, as well as video published by a state media journalist on Twitter, purport to show Peng at the opening ceremony for the tournament Sunday morning. Another video purports to show Peng signing giant tennis balls held by children and waving. The videos were released hours after the state media journalist published two other clips that claim to show Peng having dinner with her coach and friends at a restaurant. But the stilted conversation in one of the videos that suggests the interaction was staged as well as the inability to independently verify where the footage was shot raised more questions about her whereabouts.

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The WTA has threatened to pull tournaments out of China if there’s no proof of Peng’s safety. The questions surrounding her whereabouts has led some to call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics that will take place in Beijing in February. International governments are also pressuring China for answers. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Washington wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts. Britain’s Foreign Office said it was “extremely concerned” and urged China to provide “verifiable evidence of her safety and whereabouts.” Several tennis stars, including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, have also taken to social media to express concern for Peng.

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