WTA

Olympic chiefs hold new Peng Shuai video call and stick to 'quiet diplomacy' stance after WTA takes direct action

By Sports Desk December 02, 2021

The International Olympic Committee says it has spoken to Peng Shuai for a second time and will hold a "personal meeting" in January with the Chinese tennis star amid continuing concerns for her safety.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the Olympic body repeated a previous message that it was taking a "quiet diplomacy" route and speaking to Chinese sport bodies about what it described as "the difficult situation she is in".

Peng made allegations in November of sexual assault against Zhang Gaoli, the ex-vice premier and member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee. The two-time doubles grand slam winner posted the allegations on social media site Weibo, though her post has since been removed and her whereabouts since have been unclear.

The WTA, which runs the main women's tennis tour, suspended its upcoming tournaments in China on Wednesday owing to its ongoing worries about Peng's wellbeing.

An email allegedly sent by Peng was received recently by WTA chairman Steve Simon, with the message saying the sexual assault allegations were false and that the tennis star was safely at home. Simon said that email only heightened his worries over Peng's safety.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach was pictured in conversation by video link with Peng last month, and now the IOC says there was further contact on Wednesday with the 35-year-old former French Open and Wimbledon doubles winner.

The IOC said: "We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.

"There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations.

"We are using 'quiet diplomacy' which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.

"The IOC's efforts led to a half-hour videoconference with Peng Shuai on 21 November, during which she explained her situation and appeared to be safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in. This was reconfirmed in yesterday's call. Our human and person-centred approach means that we continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her."

Beijing, China's capital, is due to host the Winter Olympics in February. There could be a heightened focus on Peng should the situation not be satisfactorily resolved by then.

There has been no suggestion of the Games being in any doubt due to the global concern over Peng, but the women's tennis tour will not be visiting China for the foreseeable future, barring a change in circumstances.

WTA chairman Simon said on Wednesday: "In good conscience, I don't see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

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