Chinese tennis star says “okay” when calling Olympic official

FILE: File photo of China’s Peng Shuai serving during a match at the Australian Open. January 15, 2019 REUTERS/Edgar Sue.

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai spoke in a video call on Sunday with the president of the International Olympic Committee, telling him he was fine and in good health, the International Olympic Committee said, after Western governments expressed growing concern. for their well-being.

Pictures and videos of Peng at a children’s tournament in Beijing, which were released earlier, failed to allay that concern, after a public absence of nearly three weeks after she reported a sexual assault on her by a high-ranking Chinese official.

The IOC said in a statement that Ping began the 30-minute call with President Thomas Bach, thanking the Olympic organization for its interest.

“He made it clear that he is fine and in good health and living at his home in Beijing, but he wishes to respect his privacy at this time,” the IOC statement said.

“That is why he prefers to spend his time with friends and family at this time. However, he will continue to participate in tennis, the sport he loves so much.”

The French foreign minister had earlier asked the Chinese authorities for more assurances, echoing a statement from the Women’s Tennis Federation that photos of Peng at the tournament were not “sufficient” evidence.

“I only wish for one thing: that he speaks,” French Jean-Yves Le Drian told LCI television, adding that there could be unspecified diplomatic consequences if China did not clarify the situation. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the IOC’s statement.

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The United States and the United Kingdom also asked China to provide proof of Peng’s whereabouts.

Active and retired tennis players, from Naomi Osaka to Serena Williams and Billie Jean King, join the calls to confirm Peng is safe , using the tag “#WhereIsPengShuai?” World number one Novak Djokovic said it would be strange to hold tournaments in China if the “terrible” situation was not resolved.

Bing’s case comes as activist groups have called for a boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics in February over China’s human rights record.

On November 2, Ping posted on Chinese social media that former Vice Premier Zhang Qaoli had sexually assaulted her several years earlier.

Neither Zhang nor the Chinese government has commented on his accusations. Peng’s social media post was quickly deleted and the topic was banned online in China.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run newspaper Global Times, posted a 25-second video on on Sunday showing Bing smiling, waving and tossing giant tennis balls for children in a villa. Kids Junior Tennis Challenger Finals Championship. The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China.

The event’s official WeChat page showed photos of her in the tournament. The 35-year-old was the world No. 1 player in 2014, the first Chinese player to reach that position, after winning the doubles title at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.

On Saturday evening, Ping visited a popular restaurant in central Beijing, according to a video posted by Hu, which was verified by a restaurant manager for Reuters on Sunday.

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A spokesperson for the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which has threatened to withdraw tournaments from China, had previously said the photos and video were “insufficient” and had not responded to the WTA’s concerns.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said it would continue to seek confirmation from Ping that he was safe.

(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Sophie Yu, Yu Lun Tian, ​​Gabriel Crossley and Ryan Wu in Beijing; Sudeepto Ganguly in Mumbai, and Carlos Groman in Berlin; Written by Lisa Shumaker; Editing in Spanish by Ricardo Figueroa)

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