IOC says it held second video call with Peng Shuai

China's Peng Shuai. (Andy Brownbill/AP)

The International Olympic Committee said on Thursday that it held a second video call with Peng Shuai, whose safety has been at the forefront of the global sports community’s focus since she accused a senior leader of China’s ruling party of sexual assault and subsequently disappeared from public view.

According to the IOC, which first talked to the tennis star in a half-hour video conference on Nov. 21, the latest call took place on Wednesday.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organizations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai,” the IOC statement said in its statement. “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.”

The IOC did not expand on what the “wide-ranging support” they were offering entailed, nor did it release video or a transcript of the call, a decision which is consistent with the conversation that happened in November. The statement does not refer to Peng’s sexual assault claims directly either, noting instead “the difficult situation she is in.”

There is no specific mention of who took part in the call. The November conversation included Thomas Bach, the president of the IOC, and an IOC member from China.

The latest call taking place on Wednesday means it occurred the same day the Women’s Tennis Association announced the suspension of all its tournaments in China, including those in Hong Kong, over concerns about Peng’s safety.

The WTA’s decision could result in cancellations of those events beyond 2022, a choice which has the support of the WTA Board of Directors, players, tournaments and sponsors. It marks the strongest public stand that a sports body has taken against China and one that could cost the WTA millions of dollars.

“We’re hopeful we get to the right place, but we are prepared, if it continues as it is — which hasn’t been productive to date — that we will not be operating in the region,” WTA President and CEO Steve Simon told The Associated Press. “This is an organizational effort that is really addressing something that’s about what’s right and wrong.”

Simon, when talking to The Associated Press, emphasized that WTA events were not outright cancelled and could resume if the Chinese government takes several measures. The WTA called for China to cease its censoring of Peng, allow the tennis body to have its own discussion with Peng to be “comfortable that she’s truly safe and free,” and that a “full and transparent — without any level of censorship — investigation” into her allegations take place.

Unlike the response to the WTA’s decision, which was widely lauded for putting Peng’s well-being before profits, the IOC has been on the defensive for its handling of Peng’s situation. Critics have seen its approach as being too passive ahead of the upcoming Winter Games, which will take place in Beijing.

The IOC says its approach has been “very human and person-centred,” using what it called “quiet diplomacy” to work directly with Chinese sports organizations.

Elsewhere, the response to Peng’s disappearance from public view more than a month ago after saying on social media that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier of China, sexually assaulted her, coupled with the country’s subsequent efforts to censor any mention of her allegations led to an intensifying outcry.

On social media, #WhereIsPengShuai became a trending topic, drawing support from tennis stars such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Martina Navratilova.

Despite prominent members of the ATP, the men’s professional tour, voicing their support for the WTA’s suspension, the ATP has not yet weighed in on whether it would follow a similar course of action. The ATP released its schedule for the first half of 2022 last week, but the events that would take place in China and be affected by a withdrawal don’t occur until the second half of the season.

“I can only imagine the range of emotions and feelings that Peng is likely going through right now. I hope she knows that none of this is her fault, and that we remain very proud of her extreme courage that she’s shown through this,” Simon told The Associated Press. “But the one thing that we can’t do is walk away from this, because if we’re walking away from the key elements — which is obviously not only her well-being, but the investigation — then we’re telling the world that not addressing sexual assault with respect to the seriousness it requires is OK, because it’s too difficult. And it’s simply something that we can’t let happen.”

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