Peng Shuai: IOC holds second video call with Chinese tennis player but shares safety concerns

Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai has now held two video meetings with the International Olympic Committee

The International Olympic Committee says it has held a second video call with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai but shares in concern for her safety.

Peng, 35, disappeared from public view for three weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended all events in China and has “serious doubts” that Peng is “free, safe and not subject to intimidation”.

The IOC says it has agreed “a personal meeting” with Peng in January.

“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety,” the IOC said in a statement.

“We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her.

“We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.”

The IOC originally held a video call with three-time Olympian Peng on 21 November and a video appeared to show her attending an exhibition tournament in Beijing over the same weekend.

Her disappearance, after accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, had prompted widespread concern, with international sports stars and governments calling on China to provide proof that she was safe.

The IOC said Peng “appeared to be safe and well” during the November call and said this was “reconfirmed” on Wednesday.

The WTA has said Peng’s November video call was “insufficient evidence” of her safety.

Steve Simon, the organisation’s chairman, has spoken of being “greatly concerned” about the risks players and staff could face if events were held in China in 2022.

Simon told BBC Sport he was worried about the financial implications of not playing in China, but that Peng’s case was “bigger than the business”.

Peng won Grand Slam doubles events at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

Since her disappearance, tennis stars including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic have raised concern over her whereabouts.

‘A stronger second call’ – analysis

Robin Brandt, BBC China correspondent

This statement is stronger than what we had from the IOC following that Zoom call between Thomas Bach and Peng Shuai just over a week ago.

It seems the IOC is trying to defend its position as an intermediary.

There was strong criticism towards the IOC as being seen as an extension of the Chinese state following the original Zoom call.

The IOC is trying to be non-political but at the same time both it and the Beijing authorities want to have a Winter Olympics there in February that goes off well and shows the world that China can once again host these Games.

However, their biggest concern in China, frankly, is about Covid and the ongoing talks and possible threats about some sort of diplomatic boycott, with the US leading the charge on that.