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Missing Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Talks to IOC, Women’s Tennis Association Calls For Probe

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: November 22, 2021
SHENZHEN, CHINA - JAN. 06: Peng Shuai of China reacts during the match against Lin Zhu of China on Day 2 of 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open at Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center on January 6, 2020 in Shenzhen, China. (Image: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images)

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai recently held talks with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), bringing an end to weeks of speculation about her fate. She had earlier disappeared from public eye after accusing a high-ranking former official of coercing her into sex.

Following her disappearance, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) threatened to pull out tournaments from China worth tens of millions of dollars unless proof of her wellbeing was supplied. Chief Executive Steve Simon called for an “independent and verifiable” proof that Peng was safe and that her sexual assault investigation will be investigated “fully, fairly, and without censorship.” Failure to do so would force the WTA to do “what is right,” Simon warned.

On Nov. 21, Peng engaged in a 30-minute video call with IOC President Thomas Bach. During the call, Peng insisted that she was safe and well, living in her home in Beijing. Peng asked for her privacy to be respected as she wishes to spend time with family and friends. 

According to Emma Terho, chair of IOC’s athletes’ commission, Peng appeared to be “relaxed” during the chat. Bach invited Peng to dinner when he visits Beijing for the Winter Olympics scheduled for February.

Despite the video call, the WTA and its chief reiterated the need for a thorough probe into the issue. “It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion. 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,” a WTA spokesperson said in a statement.

Peng Shuai accuses former vice premier Zhang Gaoli

The issue surrounding the 35-year-old tennis star began on Nov. 2 when she posted an accusation against Zhang Gaoli on Weibo. She blamed the 75-year-old former vice premier of coercing her into a physical relationship prior to becoming his mistress. Peng called her experience as making her feel like a “walking corpse.”

“I know that to you, vice minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high status and power, you’ve said you’re not afraid. With your intelligence, you certainly will deny it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it without a care. Even if I’m destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I will still speak out the truth about us,” Peng had written.

Beijing’s internet censors quickly sprang into action and deleted the post within half an hour. However, by that time, the allegation had begun to spread online like wildfire. Peng turned invisible after the post, with some speculating that the Chinese regime was taking harsh steps against the tennis star. Her IOC meeting has put a stop to much of the speculation.

But many are worried about the pressure Peng is under. The Chinese regime has not indicated whether they have initiated an investigation into Peng’s charges or not. Zhang had retired from the CCP’s ruling Standing Committee back in 2018.

Peng’s disappearance had elicited strong responses from the American government. The White House has asked for “independent, verifiable proof” about Peng’s safety. Republican Senator Marco Rubio stated that the tennis star’s disappearance was the latest in a long list of “immoral and inhumane” actions committed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). He called on the IOC to relocate the games.

Democrat Representative Ami Bera, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, called for a formal investigation into Peng’s accusations. “The world cannot stand idly by as the CCP continues to commit egregious human rights atrocities and violate basic freedoms… That’s why I strongly urge the Biden Administration to implement a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics,” Bera wrote.