Chinese tennis star Peng Shaui, whose disappearance from the public eye following a sexual assault allegation raised safety concerns, had a video call with top Olympic officials Sunday.
Peng had a 30-minute video conference with the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and two other IOC officials to discuss her safety, the organization announced Sunday.
“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. “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.”
Emma Terho, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, said Peng seemed to be “doing fine” during the call.
“She appeared to be relaxed,” Terho said. “I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
Tennis stars across the world expressed concern for Peng over the last week, circulating the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai across social media. The fears for her safety came after she alleged that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier in his 70s, sexually assaulted her during an otherwise on-off relationship while he was in office.
Peng made the accusation in a Nov. 2 post on Weibo, Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, but it was quickly deleted and social media debate appeared to be quashed by censors.
Zhang was once one of China’s most powerful officials under President Xi Jinping. He retired in 2018 and was not available for comment on the subject.
NBC News did not see the post before it was deleted from Peng’s account, which has more than half a million followers. It was not clear whether she deleted the post or whether it was done by China’s censors.
Last week, China’s state television issued a statement in English attributed to Peng that retracted her accusation against Zhang.
Some of the biggest names in tennis raised the alarm after noting Peng had not been seen in public since, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Novak Djokovic.
The White House was “deeply concerned by reports that Peng Shuai appears to be missing,” press secretary Jen Psaki said during a news briefing on Friday. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied knowing about the outcry over Peng’s disappearance on Friday.
Women’s Tennis Association chairman Steve Simon said last week that he had received an email purportedly from Peng, saying she was at home resting, not missing. But Simon cast doubt on the authenticity of the email, noting that he had “repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.”
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believe what is being attributed to her,” Simon said, adding that the world needs “independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.”
It’s unclear when the video called with the IOC and Peng happened, but the organization’s statement coincides with the release of photos and video of Peng attending a youth tournament in Beijing.
Simon said in a statement following the release that the WTA’s relationship with China “is at a crossroads.”
“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. “This video alone is insufficient.”
Peng is one of China’s biggest tennis stars in recent years, a former world No. 1 in doubles who won doubles titles at Wimbledon and the French Open in 2013 and 2014.
Her situation highlights a growing issue for sports organizations that are trying to balance China’s vast commercial opportunities with concerns about Beijing’s widely criticized record on human rights and censorship.
Simon told The New York Times last week he would consider a WTA boycott of China unless he saw “appropriate results” in this case.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai informs Olympic committee she is ‘safe and well’ is written by Doha Madani for www.nbcnews.com