Peng Shuai: WTA says concerns remain for Chinese tennis star after IOC call

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Image released by the IOC which shows the call taking placeImage source, IOC / Greg Martin
Image caption,
IOC President Thomas Bach spoke to Ms Peng for 30 minutes on Sunday

The Women's Tennis Association has said that a call between Peng Shuai and the president of the International Olympic Committee does not address its concerns over the Chinese player's wellbeing.

An IOC statement after the call said Peng appeared to be safe and well.

Peng, 35, disappeared from the public eye for almost three weeks after she made sexual assault allegations against a senior Chinese minister.

Her absence triggered widespread international concern.

Sports stars and governments called on China to provide proof that she was safe.

The outcry over the tennis star's apparent disappearance from the public eye prompted Chinese state media to release a series of photographs and videos that appeared to show all was well.

On Sunday, the IOC released a statement after IOC President Thomas Bach held a video call with three-time Olympian.

The IOC account said Peng had "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," it added.

"She prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now," it said. "Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis."

The IOC statement also included an image of the video call taking place, with Ms Peng seen smiling to the camera.

But the WTA said the recent videos "don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion".

Media caption,

WTA chairman: We are worried about Peng's safety

"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," it added.

The sporting rights organisation, Global Athlete, criticised what it called the IOC's "nonchalant" approach to Peng's disappearance and accused it of displaying "an abhorrent indifference to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes".

"The release pretends that Peng never made sexual assault allegations and has not been missing for more than two weeks. The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese authority's malicious propaganda and lack of care for basic human rights and justice," it added.

Lord Sebastian Coe, President of World Athletics told BBC's Today programme that the question of where Peng is and if she is ok had been "achieved by quiet diplomacy" by the IOC.

"Nobody is suggesting that there aren't questions to be asked. Nobody is suggesting that there aren't challenges. Look we have to maintain international relationships across sport," he said, adding that Thomas Bach will be visiting Peng Shuai privately when he arrives in Beijing in January.

On Sunday, a rally was staged by a group of Chinese feminists in New York in support of Peng Shuai.

Event organiser Crystal Chen told the BBC that while the released videos and photos appear to show Peng "physically unharmed", she was "not truly free".

"She can't say whatever she wants to say in a safe condition," alleges Ms Chen, who has chosen not to be identified by her real name.

Participants of the rally also called for Peng to speak directly with the WTA and for her sexual assault allegations to be addressed.

The former number one-ranked tennis doubles player had in early November posted an allegation about former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo.

She alleged she was forced into sexual relations with him. The post that was taken down minutes later.

It is the first time such a claim has been made against one of China's senior political leaders and the most high profile case in China's #MeToo movement.

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