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In a video call, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai told Olympics officials she's safe

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai was thought to have been missing since the beginning of November after making sexual assault allegations against China's former vice premier on social media.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai was thought to have been missing since the beginning of November after making sexual assault allegations against China's former vice premier on social media.

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who has been missing from public view, told Olympic leaders Sunday that all is well. Questions surrounding the athlete's wellbeing­­ — and whereabouts — in recent weeks became another point of political tension between the U.S. and China over human rights concerns.

Peng, 35, chronicled her experience of sexual assault, allegedly by China's former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, on the Chinese social media site Weibo on Nov. 2. The post was removed by the government and her account was deleted not long after.

A global outcry demanding proof of Peng's safety came in the days that followed.

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said that its president, Thomas Bach, held a 30-minute video call with Peng, along with two other Olympic officials. Peng thanked the committee for their concern and assured them she was at her home in Beijing. She also said she would like her privacy.

"I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern," Chair of the IOC Athletes' Commission Emma Terho said in a statement. "She appeared to be relaxed. I offered her our support and to stay in touch at any time of her convenience, which she obviously appreciated."

Government officials, professional tennis groups and human rights groups had expressed concern about her whereabouts and safety.

Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to Chinese Ambassador Qin Gang on Friday calling for proof of Peng's wellbeing and an investigation into her allegations.

On Saturday, the Women's Tennis Association and Wimbledon also said they were working behind the scenes to establish the missing star's safety. Other big names in tennis took to social media to raise awareness, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic.

China's state-run news service CGTN published a copy of an email purportedly by Peng that was sent to WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon. The copy of the email says she was safe and at home in Beijing. Simon questioned the authenticity of the message.

"I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her," Simon said in a statement on Wednesday. "Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe."

Another Chinese-run media organization, the Global Times, posted multiple videos of Peng Sunday, with her attending a youth tennis match in Beijing in one clip and sitting down for dinner with her coach and friends in another. But Simon has doubts about the video evidence as well.

"While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference," Simon said in a statement Sunday.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.