Head of International Olympic Committee says Peng Shuai can move freely in China

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai
China’s Peng Shuai serves to Japan’s Nao Hibino during their first-round singles match at the Australian Open in 2020.
(Andy Brownbill / Associated Press)

The president of the International Olympic Committee sought to play down concerns about the safety of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai on Thursday and said he planned to go ahead with their long-promised dinner during the Beijing Games.

Peng last year accused a former senior Chinese Communist Party official of sexual assault. IOC President Thomas Bach is among the few people outside China to have spoken with Peng in the last three months in calls via video link with IOC staff.

Those calls frustrated tennis leaders and human rights activists who wanted footage or transcripts that could verify Peng’s well-being. They allege that the IOC was covering up for the Winter Olympics host nation.


“We know from her explanations during the video conferences that she is living here in Beijing,” Bach said, “that she can move freely, that she’s spending time with her family and friends.

“We will know better about her physical integrity and about her mental state when we can finally meet in person,” Bach said, adding that her physical safety was “maybe the most important human right.”

The most recent call between Peng and IOC staff was held this week, Bach said.

Politics have once again have thrust themselves into the Olympics and athletes must walk the line between social protest and the right to compete.

No details about the dinner appointment during the Olympics — inside the bubble that separates accredited personnel from the Chinese public — have been given.

Peng, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion, used a social media post to accuse a former member of China’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault several years earlier. The post was removed quickly, and details of the allegation were erased from the internet in China.

Peng then appeared to have vanished from public view, but soon made a brief appearance at a youth tennis event. She also did an interview with a Chinese-language daily from Singapore, but questions arose about its authenticity.

On social media, the hashtag WhereIsPengShuai has trended and won support from tennis greats Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Roger Federer.

Five years after China’s incarceration and forced labor campaign began, most Uyghurs abroad remain cut off from their families. Some are speaking out.

The campaign was a talking point during last month’s Australian Open, with dozens of fans wearing the slogan on T-shirts.

Bach said that, if Peng wanted an official Chinese investigation into her allegations, “we would also support her in this, but it must be her decision.

“It’s a necessity to respect her,” Bach said, “to listen to her and how she sees the situation, how she wants to live her life.”