Missing tennis star Peng Shuai reappeared in public on Sunday at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing, according to videos released by Chinese state media. Also on Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said that Peng had spoken via video with officials from the organization and told them she was “safe and well.” Peng’s welfare has been the focus of intense international concern after she disappeared from public view after alleging that she had been sexually assaulted by a former top official in China’s government.
The footage released Sunday by state media claims Peng — a former number-one-ranked tennis doubles player — was at the opening ceremony of the final for a tennis open for teenagers in Beijing on Sunday morning. The 35-year-old Peng had not been seen publicly since November 2, when she alleged in an emotional and harrowing 1,600-word post to social media that China’s former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her. She claimed Zhang forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals following a round of tennis three years ago. (The post was deleted within 30 minutes.)
Later Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said in a statement that Peng took part in a 30-minute video call with IOC officials. “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,” the statement from the Olympic body said. A few days earlier, the IOC said it would take a “quiet diplomacy” approach to Peng’s situation. (Beijing is hosting the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympic Games.)
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” said IOC Athletes’ Commission Chair Emma Terho, who was one of the three officials on the call. “She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated.”
Peng’s disappearance from public view prompted many to call for proof of her well-being. As USA Today points out, “even if Peng’s accusation is deemed valid, people in China often are jailed or face other penalties for embarrassing the party by publicizing complaints about abuses instead of going through the secretive, often unresponsive official system.” Concern grew last week after a suspicious email was written in her voice, claiming the allegation about Zhang wasn’t true and that she was not missing or in harm’s way.
Chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, said the footage of Peng released Sunday was insufficient to alleviate the organization’s concerns. “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.” The organization has threatened to pull tournaments out of China without reliable proof that Peng is safe.
Others are also pressuring China for answers. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the U.S. wanted China to “provide independent, verifiable proof” of Peng’s whereabouts. The United Nations has also called on a fully transparent investigation into the claims made by Peng against Zhang.
This post has been updated.