Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
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The governing body of women’s tennis says it still has concerns about the welfare of Chinese star Peng Shuai, despite the IOC confirming holding a 30-minute video chat with the former doubles world No 1. She had been ‘missing’ since November 2, when she publicly accused a former high-ranking China official of sexual abuse.
The 35-year-old took to Chinese social media site Weibo to post details about the allegation agains former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
The post was removed within half an hour, while Zhang has not responded to the claim, though a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of the allegation when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”
She was missing after that for almost three weeks, until Chinese state media ended its radio silence on the subject by publishing photos of the former doubles world number one.
A video was then released which appears to show Peng having dinner with friends at a restaurant, but WTA chair Steve Simon said it wasn’t enough to verify that she was safe and well. And another later video claimed to show the tennis star at a Beijing tennis tournament.
“I am glad to see the videos released by China state-run media that appear to show Peng Shuai at a restaurant in Beijing,” he said.
“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. This video alone is insufficient.”
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The IOC has now released a statement and a photo confirming that Bach had spoken with Peng for around half-an-hour in a video call.
“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being,” the Olympic body’s statement said.
“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.
“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.”
The statement added that Bach had invited Peng Shuai to go for dinner in January, with himself, chair of the athletes’ commission Emma Tehro and IOC Member in China Li Lingwei when he arrives in Beijing – an offer which she “gladly accepted”.
Despite those assertions from the IOC, the WTA remains committed to its stance that a “full and transparent” investigation into her sexual abuse allegation is required, and that it is still not entirely satisfied that the tennis star is able to act of her own free will.
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“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 spokesperson told The Guardian.
“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.”
WTA chair Simon wrote at the end of last week to the Chinese ambassador to the United States, a letter in which he continued to demand a fair investigation and verifiable proof that Peng was free.
“First, there needs to be independent and verifiable confirmation that Peng Shuai is safe,” he wrote.
“So that her fellow players and fans everywhere can know she is safe, I request she be allowed to leave the country or speak live via teleconference with me with no-one else present, unless it is with Peng’s permission.”
“Second, the accusation of sexual assault is serious. As the leader of a women’s tennis organization, I think it is vital to see that this allegation is investigated fairly, fully, transparently and without censorship. Anything less would be a setback for the rights of women, not to mention the cause of justice.
“If our two requests are not honoured, we will have no choice but to seriously consider whether we can play in China again. If Peng Shuai is not safe, free to move about, or to speak freely, we have grave concerns that none of our players will be safe in China.
“And if Peng Shuai’s accusation is not properly investigated, it would cause deep concern throughout the WTA. Simply put, the WTA is at a crossroads in China.”
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