The governing body of women's tennis says while it has been "good" to see Peng Shuai appear in a recent video declaring that she's "safe and well", it has not alleviated their concerns for the Chinese star.
Peng - whose disappearance after making sexual assault allegations against a powerful Chinese politician has created headlines around the world - spoke with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach in a video call to assure him that she's OK.
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The 30-minute call came after Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, of sexually assaulting her.
On November 2, Peng posted on Chinese social media that former vice-premier Zhang had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
She was not seen or heard of in public for weeks in the aftermath of the allegations, which were since removed from the social media platform.
Sunday's call with IOC president Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association, appears to be Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on November 2.
The IOC said in a statement that Peng “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," the statement said.
"That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now."
Bach said he invited Peng to join him at a dinner when he arrives in Beijing in January, “which she gladly accepted".
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” Terho said in the IOC statement.
“She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
World concerned about Peng Shuai situation
The whereabouts of former doubles World No.1 Peng has been a matter of international concern for nearly three weeks, Chinese state media doing its best to allay the world's fears.
Social media posts from China appeared to show Peng at a dinner with friends on Saturday and at a children's tennis tournament in Beijing on Sunday but concerns have remained about whether they were staged and how much freedom the Chinese star actually has.
account w/ less than 1k followers, last original tweet in 2012, and last rt from 2017. claims that peng shuai is with him at an "influencer restaurant in beijing" for dinner. everybody and their grandma coming out to say that peng shuai is okay except for peng shuai herself https://t.co/ds2dAo11xg
— Aurora Chang 張瓊方 🗡️ (@aurorachaang) November 21, 2021
The WTA said in a statement that while the most recent video with the IOC is a positive development, major questions about her sexual assault allegations and censorship by China's state media remain unanswered.
"It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion," a WTA spokeswoman said in an e-mail.
Asked about the call with the IOC, the spokeswoman said: "This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."
The concern over Peng comes as global rights groups and others have called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February over China's human rights record.
The WTA has also threatened to pull tournaments out of China over the matter.
Peng's initial post about the sexual assault allegations was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China's heavily censored internet.
Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng's allegations.
The United States and Britain subsequently called for China to provide proof of Peng's whereabouts and leading tennis players such as Serena Williams, Noami Osaka, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have all expressed concern about her wellbeing.
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