Peng Shuai breaks silence in IOC video call, Chinese state media, missing tennis star

The plot thickens over the disappearance of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has resurfaced and has spoken of her strange absence.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she was safe and sound during a video call with the head of the International Olympic Committee, the organization said, following international concerns about her well-being.

Beginning a 30-minute conversation with IOC President Thomas Bach, “Peng Shuai thanks the IOC for its concern for its well-being,” the organization said in a statement.

“She explained that she lives safe and sound in her home in Beijing, but that she would like her privacy to be respected at this point,” it read.

“That’s why she now prefers to spend her time with friends and family. However, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”

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Earlier on Sunday, Peng was featured in official photos of events at a tennis tournament in Beijing, marking her first public appearance since her sexual abuse allegations were widely censored on the Chinese internet.

The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion hadn’t been seen in public since he claimed earlier this month that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, now in her 70s, forced her into sex during an on-again, off-again relationship.

After a worldwide outcry, including from tennis superstars and the United Nations, Chinese state media reporters released a torrent of images claiming that Peng is all right.

A video of the Fila Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals event, tweeted by Global times newspaper editor Hu Xijin shows Peng in a stadium among a group of guests whose names are announced to a short applause.

AN Global times The reporter tweeted another video of Peng signing autographs for children in what appears to be the same stadium before taking a picture with them.

Hu also posted two other videos over the weekend, the first shows Peng walking into a restaurant wearing a coat, knit cap and face mask, and the second shows a maskless Peng sitting at a table chatting with people over a meal.

AFP could not verify the authenticity of the videos.

Hu tweeted in English that the second video shows: “Peng Shuai had dinner with her coach and friends in a restaurant. The video content clearly shows that they were shot on Saturday Beijing time”.

The conversation was about ‘tennis matches’. A man sitting with Peng and two women said, “Tomorrow is November 20th”. But one of the women quickly corrects him and says, “It’s the 21st,” implying that the video was shot on Saturday.

The chat seems staged. It was filmed in the evenings with a mobile phone. Peng seems relaxed in the images.

Peng’s claims against Zhang marked the first time the Chinese #MeToo movement has reached the highest echelons of the ruling Communist Party. They were quickly removed from the Twitter-esque Weibo platform, and concerns about her security have grown ever since.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has threatened to end lucrative contracts with China unless it gets word about Peng’s safety.

On the restaurant videos, WTA boss Steve Simon said he was pleased to see the footage, but “it remains unclear whether she is free and capable of making decisions and taking actions on her own, without coercion or outside interference”.

“This video alone is not enough,” Simon said in a statement. “I have been clear about what needs to be done and our relationship with China is at a crossroads.”

A WTA spokeswoman later told AFP that Sunday’s images of the Beijing tournament still failed to address their concerns.

But while the footage and footage didn’t seem to allay concerns about Peng’s well-being, Emma Terho, chair of the IOC Athletes Committee, said she was relieved after Monday’s video call, in which she participated.

“I was relieved to see Peng Shuai doing well, which was our main concern,” Terho said in the IOC statement.

“She seemed relaxed. I offered her our support and kept in touch whenever it suited her, which she clearly appreciated.”

A growing chorus of voices in the sports world and beyond is asking for answers about how Peng is doing.

The White House has expressed “deep concern” about Peng, with President Joe Biden’s press secretary saying his administration wanted China to provide “independent, verifiable evidence” of her whereabouts.

The British Foreign Office also said it was “extremely concerned” and urged China to release verifiable evidence, while the French Foreign Secretary said she should be able to speak up to clarify her situation.

The UN has pushed for a fully transparent investigation into Peng’s claims.

Some of the biggest names in tennis have spoken out on the matter, including: Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka.

Superstar Roger Federer also weighed in on Sunday, saying on Sky Italia: “She is one of our tennis champions, a former number one in the world. It is clearly worrying. I hope she is safe.” Peng represented China at the Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro Olympics and won gold for China at the 2010 Asian Games.

She is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.

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