Peng Shuai: what happened to the Chinese tennis star, is the player missing - what did she say in video call?

The 35-year-old alleged on social media earlier this month that she was assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice premier

Concerns remain for the welfare of a Chinese tennis player, despite her having told the International Olympic Committee (IOC) she is “safe and well” during a video call on Sunday (21 November).

Former world doubles number one Peng Shuai had not been heard from since making allegations of sexual assault against China’s former vice-premier in a post on the social media platform Weibo two weeks ago.

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The post was quickly removed, triggering mounting worry for Peng, with Naomi Osaka among those taking to social media to draw attention to the situation.

Here is everything you need to know about her.

What did Peng allege?

The 35-year-old reportedly alleged on social media earlier this month that she was assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice premier, but the post was soon deleted.

Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chairman and CEO Steve Simon released a statement, saying Peng’s “allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.”

“Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government,” he said. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe.

“I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communications, to no avail. Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source.

“The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”

What did her letter say?

Ahead of the reported video call, a letter purportedly from the player appeared on Chinese state media, claiming that Peng has “just been resting at home and everything is fine”.

The letter was posted by the China Global Television Network Europe’s Twitter page, which the broadcaster claimed was sent from Peng to Simon.

It read: “Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent.

“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”

The WTA released a strong statement in response, with Simon calling for an investigation into Peng’s allegations.

He told the New York Times the issue could jeopardise the tour’s future in China despite the huge sums of money at stake.

Writing on 17 November, Simon said: “The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts.

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”

Why has the IOC been criticised?

The IOC has been criticised for not following the WTA in issuing strong statements regarding the welfare of Peng.

It said it favoured “quiet diplomacy”, and on Sunday (21 November) the organisation, which will stage the Winter Olympics in Beijing in just over two months’ time, released a statement detailing the video call.

It read: “Today, IOC president Thomas Bach held a video call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai from China.

“He was joined by the chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho, and IOC member in China, Li Lingwei, who has known Peng Shuai for many years from her time in the Chinese Tennis Federation.

“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai 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.

“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.”

Why are the WTA not satisfied?

It remains to be seen whether the latest development will satisfy the WTA and its head, who has been praised for his forceful stance on the situation.

Simon has threatened to pull tournaments out of China, the most lucrative market for women’s tennis, if Peng’s allegations against Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice premier, are not fully investigated.

The WTA said the recent video call does not “alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her wellbeing 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,” it added.

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