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Chinese tennis star tells Olympic officials she is ‘safe and well’

Concern had been mounting for Peng Shuai’s welfare following her high-profile allegation of sexual assault.

Image: PA

MISSING CHINESE TENNIS star Peng Shuai told Olympic officials in a video call from Beijing that she was safe and well, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said today.

The news came after Peng reappeared in public at a youth tournament in Beijing, according to photographs released by the organiser.

The 30-minute call came amid growing global alarm over Peng after she accused a former leading Communist Party official of sexual assault.

China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to quell fears abroad while suppressing information in China about Peng.

Sunday’s call – with IOC president Thomas Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association – appears to be Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on 2 November.

Peng “thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing”, the Switzerland-based Olympic body said in a statement.

“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 said.

Peng, who played for China at three Olympics from 2008 to 2016, made the sexual assault allegation on Chinese social media three weeks ago against a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli.

That post was removed within minutes and the former top-ranked doubles player went missing from public view. She did not respond publicly to calls for information to show she was safe.

Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticising party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and workers’ rights campaigns.

Some re-emerge weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they are warned not to disclose they were detained or the reason.

The photos of Peng posted on Sunday by the China Open on the Weibo social media service made no mention of her disappearance or her accusation.

The former Wimbledon champion was shown standing beside a court, waving and signing oversized commemorative tennis balls for children.

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Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to appeals for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, a prestige event for the Communist Party.

The women’s professional tour threatened to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former number one doubles player was assured.

The IOC had previously remained quiet about the status of Peng, who competed in three Olympics, helping to contribute to the organisation’s multimillion-pound revenue from broadcasting and sponsorships.

The Olympic body’s stated policy is “quiet diplomacy”.

The IOC had said on Saturday that it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China”.

Tennis stars and the Women’s Tennis Association have been unusually vocal in demanding information about Peng. Other companies and sports groups are reluctant to confront Beijing for fear of losing access to the Chinese market or other retaliations.

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