The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has made the extraordinary admission that it can’t provide certainties about the welfare of Chinese tennis star, Peng Shuai.
Peng’s plight has sparked global concern after after she posted a message on social media alleging that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
The former Wimbledon and French Open champion subsequently dropped out of public view for around three weeks before reappearing in Beijing.
She has only had a few direct contacts with officials outside China since and told Olympic officials in a video call from Beijing that she was safe and well.
The IOC’s dialogue with Peng has done little to dispel the global concern for the 35-year-old, with concerns the tennis star’s interactions and public appearances are being carefully staged by China.
Critics have claimed the IOC is enabling a cover-up by China ahead of the state-backed project to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
The IOC faced more questions about Peng on Tuesday at its first news conference since the Women’s Tennis Association, which has been unable to speak to her, suspended all of its tournaments in China.
“We can’t provide you with absolute certainty on anything,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
“All we can do is do the best we can in the process that we believe is in the best interests of the well-being of the athlete.”
The Olympic body has repeatedly cited its policy of “quiet diplomacy” as the most likely to succeed with China, whose leader has met and spoken directly with IOC president Thomas Bach since Beijing was picked as host in 2015.
Bach took part in the first video call with three-time Olympian Peng on November 21, in a chat that lasted 30 minutes and also involved IOC members from China and an athlete representative.
However, the IOC provided no video footage or transcripts of the conversations, fuelling doubts that Peng was able to speak or travel freely.
“We can’t give assurances and we don’t know the full facts,” Adams said, pointing to a promise on both sides that Peng and Bach will meet for dinner in Beijing in January.
“It’s a full road map to at least attempt to keep in touch and to see where she is.”
The WTA’s suspension of tournaments in China was taken after talking with current and former players.
On social media, the hashtag WhereIsPengShuai has trended and won support from tennis greats such as Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Roger Federer.
Asked why Peng has not spoken with tennis players or WTA leaders, Adams said: “That I obviously cannot answer because I really don’t know.”
The senior IOC member overseeing Beijing’s Olympic preparations, Juan Antonio Samaranch said there was a “need to be discreet” and reiterated the organisation’s approach of “quiet diplomacy”
“We have to respect her desire for discretion also in this very difficult moment of her life. And we will do that,” Samaranch said at the news conference.
The IOC has repeatedly avoided using words referring directly to Peng’s allegations, or the possibility she has restricted freedom. Instead, statements after the video calls cited only “her situation.”
Image: Getty Images
This article first appeared on Over60.