International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a video phone call with three-time Olympian Peng Shuai, the Olympics governing body announced on Sunday, amid a wave of global concern about Peng’s wellbeing and whereabouts.
The two were accompanied on the video call by a Chinese sports official, Li Lingwei, as well as the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho. The IOC did not provide CNN access to the video.
The video comes after Peng, one of China’s most recognizable sports stars, publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
She has not been directly seen in public since the accusation, prompting several fellow tennis players to express worry on social media, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
The Women’s Tennis Association and the United Nations have called for an investigation into her allegations of sexual assault.
According to the IOC statement, Peng thanked the committee for its concern about her well-being and insisted that she is “safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now.”
The call, which reportedly lasted 30-minutes, appears to be Peng’s first known direct contact with officials outside of China since making the allegations.
“I was relieved to see that Peng Shuai was doing fine, which was our main concern,” said Terho. “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.”
Also according to the IOC, Peng accepted an invitation to have dinner with Bach and Terho as well as Li – a former director and Communist Party secretary of Tennis Administration Center of General Administration of Sport of China – in January, ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The IOC told CNN on Monday that the video call was to enquire about the “wellbeing and safety” of the Chinese tennis star.
In a statement, an IOC spokesperson said: “In the 30-minute conversation, she was very clear in confirming that she is safe and well. She also mentioned that she will be taking part in some activities with friends and family, and will continue to be involved in tennis.”
“Safeguarding the well-being of athletes is paramount to the IOC and the Olympic Movement,” the spokesperson added.
“We also made it clear that she could get in touch whenever she deems it appropriate, and we will also continue to remain in contact with the Chinese Olympic Committee,” read the statement.
Following the IOC statement saying Bach had spoken with Peng, a spokesperson for the WTA said it was not enough to “alleviate or address the WTA’s concern.”
“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 spokesperson told CNN in a statement.
“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.”
Steve Simon, the head of the WTA, has also called for more robust proof of Peng’s liberty. In a letter to China’s Ambassador to the United States Qin Gang, Simon requests that she either be allowed to leave the country or speak live via teleconference with him and no one else present.
The IOC did not provide a response when asked by CNN about criticism from the WTA that Sunday’s video call failed to alleviate or address concerns about Peng’s “well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”
Simon’s demand came as several people connected to Chinese state media and sport system tweeted photos and videos they say show Peng out to dinner on Saturday and at a tennis event for teenagers in Beijing on Sunday.
Throughout the videos Peng says very little but is seen smiling. CNN cannot independently verify the video clips or confirm when they were filmed.
Though Simon expressed relief at seeing Peng in these clips, he said his concerns remained.
“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.
Peng’s explosive sexual assault allegations, made in a post on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, were deleted within 30 minutes of publication, and any mention of the accusation online was quickly erased.
Until Chinese state media released the videos over the weekend, Peng had not been seen in public for about three weeks, leading to global outcry.
Beijing faced growing international pressure to show proof of her well-being, including from the United Nations, the US government, and the world’s biggest tennis stars.
Simon, the WTA chief, said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations not properly investigated.
Chinese authorities have not acknowledged Peng’s allegations against Zhang, and there is no indication an investigation is underway. It remains unclear if Peng has reported her allegations to the police.
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian reiterated that Peng’s accusation is not a diplomatic issue and declined to comment further. CNN has reached out to China’s State Council Information Office, which handles press inquires for the central government.
Zhang has kept a low profile and faded from public life since his retirement in 2018, and there is no public information relating to his current whereabouts.
Previous reporting contributed by CNN’s Nectar Gan and Mohammed Tawfeeq.