Canadian IOC member Dick Pound defends organization for Peng Shuai video call

Peng Shuai, of China, returns a shot to Maria Sakkari, of Greece, during the second round of the US Open tennis championships Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, in New York. (Michael Owens/AP Photo)

Longtime International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound says he does not agree with criticism of his organization for its handling of the Peng Shuai situation.

In an interview on Thursday with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, the Montreal lawyer defended the IOC for its video call with Peng after the Chinese tennis star's nearly three-week disappearance from public view.

"I must say I'm really puzzled by that assessment of it," Pound told Amanpour when asked what he said to those who felt it was an unsatisfactory intervention. "Basically, lots of people around the world were looking to see what happened to Peng. Nobody was able to establish contact. Only the IOC was able to do so."

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 -- appeared to be Peng's first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on Nov. 2 after accusing a senior Chinese official of sexual assault.

Tennis stars and fans alike demanded to know #WhereIsPengShuai, and the head of the Women's Tennis Association threatened to pull lucrative events from China.

The IOC posted a photo that showed Bach facing a screen on which Peng appeared but did not release video of the call. On the same day, the China Open posted videos and photos of her appearance at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing that morning.

Peng "thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being," 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.

"Nobody's released the video because I guess that aspect of it was private," Pound said in his CNN interview. "But they found her in good health and good spirits and they saw no evidence of confinement or anything like that.

"If you're really concerned about Peng, you've got some good news," Pound added.

Even after the statement was published Sunday, the WTA repeated what chairman and CEO Steve Simon has been saying for more than a week, calling for a full, fair and transparent investigation "without censorship."

"If nothing else, you can have quite a lot of confidence she'll be in good shape up to and including Beijing. That's what we were concerned about ... The (WTA) may have its own views, but I don't think they've been paying much attention to what's happened in basketball and football and threatening Chinese with economic sanctions. It's not going to work. Part of the proof of the pudding is they were not able to get in touch with her and that's her sport. Maybe she didn't like the attitude they were showing."

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.

-- With files from The Associated Press

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.