One of China’s most recognizable sports stars, Peng has publicly accused a former senior Communist Party official, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, of forcing her to have sex at his home three years ago. in a social media post deleted since November 2.
Peng was immediately suffocated by general censorship and disappeared from public view for more than two weeks, prompting the world of women’s tennis to demand answers as to her plight – as well as a full investigation into her allegations. against Zhang.
Amid a growing global outcry, people working for the Chinese government-controlled media and the state’s sports system have posted a number of “life-proof” photos and videos of Peng.
On November 21, the IOC said in a statement that its president, Thomas Bach, had set up a 30-minute video call with three-time Olympian Peng, alongside a Chinese sports official and another IOC representative, and said that during the call, Peng appeared to be “fine” and was “relaxed”, saying that she “would like her privacy to be respected.” The IOC did not explain how the video call with Peng was organized and did not make the video available to the public.
Summarizing the second call, the IOC said it had offered the tennis star “broad support” and pledged to keep in regular contact with her, adding that it had “already arranged a personal meeting in January”.
The IOC also told CNN it was not providing any visual material for Wednesday’s second video call amid growing skepticism about Peng’s freedom of communication, as well as concerns for his safety.
Later Thursday, a WTA spokeswoman told CNN that she had received another email from Peng.
According to the WTA, this is the third email he’s received from Peng.
Reacting to the latest email, a WTA spokeswoman said the organization is upholding its decision to suspend tournaments in China.
In a statement released Thursday, ATP Tour chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said Peng’s situation “continues to cause serious concern.”
“The situation involving Peng Shuai continues to raise serious concerns within and beyond our sport. The response to these concerns has so far been insufficient. We again urge an open direct line of communication between the player and the WTA to take a picture of his situation.
“We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance to create opportunities and make an impact.
“We will continue to consult with our members and monitor any developments as this issue evolves. “
China responds to boycott
WTA CEO Steve Simon said the decision was based on the Chinese authorities’ “unacceptable” response, including rushing to censor Peng’s claims and ignoring calls for a full and transparent investigation. .
“In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has apparently been pressured to contradict his allegation of sexual assault,” Simon said.
“Considering the current state of affairs, I am also very concerned about the risks all of our players and staff may face if we host events in China in 2022.”
Beijing hit back at the move, with China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper accusing the WTA of “setting a bad example for the whole world of sport,” in a highly critical editorial published Thursday.
The article called the WTA’s decision “an exaggerated spectacle”, intended to act as “a lever of Western public opinion against the Chinese political system”.
China “strongly opposes any act that politicizes sports,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in a briefing Thursday.
“Unfortunately, the Chinese leadership has not tackled this very serious issue credibly. Although we now know Peng’s whereabouts, I seriously doubt that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion. and intimidation “. Simon said.
Long-time IOC member Dick Pound said the “unanimous conclusion” of those who participated in the Nov. 21 appeal with Peng is that she is fine, adding that he was “intrigued” by international reaction to the call.
Chinese authorities have not acknowledged Peng’s allegations against Zhang – who has disappeared from public life since his retirement in 2018 – and there is no indication that an investigation is ongoing. It is still unclear whether Peng reported his allegations to the police.
Players signal support for WTA
World number one men’s Novak Djokovic has said he supports the boycott of the WTA.
“I fully support the WTA’s position because we don’t have enough information about Shuai Peng and his well-being,” Djokovic said in Madrid after a Davis Cup draw. “It is the life of a tennis player that is at stake here, so we as a tennis community have to stand together.”
Zhang has kept a low profile and has withdrawn from public life since his retirement in 2018, and there is no public information regarding his current plight.
Before retiring as vice premier, Zhang was the head of a Chinese government task force for the Beijing Games. In this role, he inspected venues, visited athletes, unveiled official emblems and held meetings to coordinate preparation work.
Zhang had previously met IOC President Bach on at least one occasion, the two being pictured together shaking hands in the Chinese capital in 2016.
CNN’s Aleks Klosk contributed reporting.