Olympic Committee Member Says They Believe Tennis Star Peng Shuai is "Fine" After Disappearing for Weeks

·4 min read
Peng Shuai of China celebrates a point during the women's singles 2nd round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia on day 4 of the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open at Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center on January 08, 2020 in Shenzhen, China.
Peng Shuai of China celebrates a point during the women's singles 2nd round match against Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia on day 4 of the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open at Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center on January 08, 2020 in Shenzhen, China.

Zhizhao Wu/Getty

Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who went missing after accusing a senior government official of sexual assault, is "fine" after concerns were raised about her wellbeing, said International Olympic Committee (IOC) senior member Dick Pound.

Peng was not seen in public for weeks after she came forward to accuse China's former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her to have sex with him years ago, PEOPLE previously reported. After public outcry and an online campaign to track down the pro athlete using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai, she participated in a Zoom call with Olympic officials Nov. 21.

In an appearance on CNN Tuesday, Pound told anchor Erin Burnett that the IOC officials "had a very friendly and relaxed call" with Peng, adding, "The consensus of all of those people on the call was, she's fine. She's not under any kind of coercion or confinement, so that's the best evidence we have at the moment."

RELATED: Pressure Is 'Heightened' on China to Answer for Missing Tennis Star Peng Shuai's Whereabouts

Pound was not on the call, however, and did not see footage of it. He previously explained to CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Nov. 25, "nobody has released the video because that aspect of it was private."

He added at the time, "They found her in good health and in good spirits and they saw no evidence of confinement or anything like that."

Although Pound was not present for the conversation between Peng and the IOC, he told Burnett on Tuesday: "What we have is hard evidence as we can have and feel," referring to Peng's conversation with the IOC. "These are people who have dealt with athletes and dealt with pressure. They can tell whether somebody is behaving under duress or not."

He added, "Their unanimous conclusion was that she was fine. And she just asked that her privacy be respected for the time being."

When Burnett pressed him, asking how he could "be sure" that Peng's appearances like the recent video call were not "staged," Pound replied, "There are lots of countries where you can't easily leave the country. I think a lot of that is speculation."

RELATED: Serena Williams Speaks Out About Missing Player Peng Shuai as UN Asks China for Proof of Whereabouts

Pound's most recent appearance on CNN comes as the European Union called for a "full, fair and transparent investigation" into her allegations, Sports Illustrated reports. The EU is asking for "verifiable proof" from China that she is safe.

"Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom," an EU spokesperson said, per Sports Illustrated.

Peng first accused Zhang of sexual assault on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform. In a post published Nov. 2, Peng claimed that Zhang assaulted her at his home after inviting her to play tennis with him and his wife, according to CBS Sports.

"I never gave consent, crying the entire time," Peng wrote of the encounter. Within 30 minutes, her post was removed from Weibo. She later disappeared from public view for weeks before her appearance on the IOC call.

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The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced on Twitter Wednesday that they would be suspending all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In a message posted to the WTA Tour website, WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon claimed Peng "is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault."

Simon accused China of not addressing the "very serious issue" of Peng's accusation "in any credible way." He acknowledged that "we now know where Peng is," but added, "I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation.

The WTA is repeating their "call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai's sexual assault accusation," Simon stated.

"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable," he continued. "If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players."

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