New video of missing #metoo tennis star Peng Shuai released by Chinese state media on Sunday stoked further skepticism about her well being— which apparently led her to call the president of the International Olympics Committee by video on Sunday.
The IOC has been noticeably silent on the global concern for the missing athlete, who disappeared after accusing a former vice president of sexual harassment. The winter games are to be held in Beijing in February next year and the IOC has said they would refrain from commenting, saying instead, “We support the quiet diplomacy approach that is being taken and hope it will lead to the release of information about the whereabouts of Peng Shuai and confirmation of her safety and well-being.”
Why Peng called them instead of the Women’s Tennis Association, which has been lobbying for people to put pressure on China and who have been trying to reach her, remains unclear.
In a statement issued Sunday, the IOC said the athlete held a 30-minute video call with President Thomas Bach, during which she thanked the IOC for its concern for her well-being. “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 statement said. “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.” No mention of her allegations or whether they were being investigated were made.
The call came after new video footage was tweeted by the editor of state newspaper Global Times—even though Twitter is banned in China—shows Peng signing giant tennis balls held by children and waving to what may or may not be a crowd in front of her.
Immediately, the spokesperson for the World Tennis Association, which Friday said it would boycott China if she is not heard from soon, called the footage “insufficient.” Steve Simon, the WTA chief, said they have tried unsuccessfully to reach her since she made stunning allegations of sexual harassment against the former vice president Zhang Gaoli Nov. 2.
“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. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug. I have been clear about what needs to happen and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.” The WTA did not immediately comment on her call with the IOC.
A second clip appeared several hours later on another state media channel—again via Twitter, which implies it is meant for the global audience rather than Chinese population who may know nothing about her allegations. In the second image, she is seen signing giant tennis balls for young aspiring players with a caption saying she was doing so as “a way of inspiring more kids to play tennis.”
Sunday’s footage followed the release of photos and video of Peng in a restaurant in Beijing where she cannot be heard speaking but her dining partners somewhat awkwardly discuss the date to try to prove it is recent— including one person saying, “Tomorrow is November 20th” before being corrected by another who said, “It is the 21st.” A photo supposedly from her Chinese social media account, also released on Friday, was met with suspicion after a cursor was seen in the screenshot.
Concern for Peng, 35, has gained international attention with White House press secretary Jen Psaki expressing President Joe Biden’s “deep concern” and demanding China provide “independent, verifiable proof” of the missing star’s whereabouts and freedom of expression.
The UK Foreign Office also demanded that China address the issue of her safety and her allegations. “Everyone should be allowed to speak out without fear of repercussions,” it said in a statement. “All reports of sexual assault, anywhere in the world, should be investigated.”
The United Nations Human Rights office has also weighed in, calling for a response from the Chinese Communist party. “It would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and well being,” UN Human Rights spokesperson Liz Throssell told reporters. “We are calling for an investigation with full transparency into her allegation of sexual assault.”
Peng made her original allegations in a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo, but it was removed within 30 minutes by Chinese censors who also scrubbed the Chinese internet of her name and even references to tennis. She said the former vice president forced her to have sex with him and to carry out a sexual relationship.
“I know that for someone of your eminence, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid,” Peng wrote in the deleted post. “But even if it’s just me, like an egg hitting a rock, or a moth to the flame, courting self-destruction, I’ll tell the truth about you.”