Speed Reads

Peng Shuai Mystery

IOC says its president video-chatted with missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, raising more questions

China worked hard this weekend to convince the world that tennis player Peng Shuai is fine, despite concerns she hasn't been seen in the three weeks since she publicly accused a high-ranking Chinese government official of sexual assault. The International Olympic Committee got involved Sunday, saying IOC president Thomas Bach had spoken with Peng for half an hour and releasing a still photo of their video chat.

Peng "explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time," the IOC said. Also on the video call were IOC Athletes Commission chair Emma Terho and Li Lingwei, a Chinese sports official and IOC board member. "I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern," Terho said in the IOC statement. "She appeared to be relaxed."

"The IOC and the Chinese government would like this to be the end of the Peng saga," The Associated Press reports. "That may be wishful thinking on their part. The interview offered few details, no follow-ups on her allegations, and invited more questions for the IOC, Peng, and China."

The Women's Tennis Association, which has threatened to pull all major events from China, was not mollified. "It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion," the WTA said. "This video does not change our call for a full, fair, and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."  

The IOC says its "quiet diplomacy" worked in proving that Peng is physically safe. But it's also now "actively playing a role in the Chinese government's enforced disappearance, coercion, and propaganda machinery," argues Human Rights Watch's China-born spokeswoman Yaqiu Wang. The IOC and Beijing are working closely together on the cloistered, already controversial Beijing Olympics, scheduled to begin in February. 

"Although the IOC casts itself as a non-governmental organization, it's a sports business — like the WTA or NBA — that generates 91 percent of its income from sponsors and selling broadcast rights," AP notes. "The WTA is the first sports body to defiantly stand up to China's financial clout, a sharp contrast to the IOC, which says it is powerless to intervene in China's internal policies."