Missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has insisted she is safe and well during a video call from Beijing to concerned Olympic officials.
The call came hours after Ms Peng reappeared in public at a youth tournament in the capital, according to photos released by the organiser.
The 30-minute call came amid growing global alarm over Ms Peng after she accused a former leading Communist Party official of sexual assault. China’s ruling Communist Party has tried to quell fears abroad while suppressing information in China about Ms Peng.
Yesterday’s call – with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice-president of the Chinese Tennis Association – appears to be Ms Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on November 2.
Ms Peng “thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being”, the Switzerland-based Olympic body said in a statement.
“She explained 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 statement said.
Ms Peng, who played for China at three Olympics from 2008 to 2016, made the sexual assault allegation on Chinese social media three weeks ago against a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli.
That post was removed within minutes and the former top-ranked doubles player went missing from public view. She did not respond publicly to calls for information to show she was safe.
Ms Peng adds to a growing number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticising party figures, or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labour rights campaigns.
Some re-emerge weeks or months later without explanation, suggesting they are warned not to disclose they were detained or the reason.
The photos of Ms Peng posted yesterday by the China Open on the Weibo social media service made no mention of her disappearance or her accusation.
The former Wimbledon champion was shown standing beside a court, waving and signing oversized commemorative tennis balls for children.
Ms Peng’s disappearance and official silence in response to appeals for information prompted calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February, a prestige event for the Communist Party.
The women’s professional tour threatened to pull events out of China unless the safety of the former No 1 doubles player was assured.
The IOC had previously remained quiet about the status of Ms Peng, who competed in three Olympics, helping to contribute to the IOC’s multi-million-dollar revenue from broadcasting and sponsorships.
The Olympic body’s stated policy is “quiet diplomacy”. The IOC had said on Saturday it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China”.
Discussion of Ms Peng’s accusation has been deleted from websites in China. On Friday, a government spokesman denied knowing about the outcry.
The ruling party’s internet filters also block most people in China from seeing other social media abroad and most global news outlets.
Comments on Chinese social media yeserday criticised the Women’s Tennis Association and others who spoke up about Ms Peng.
Comments in Chinese on Twitter poked fun at the awkward release of photos and video of Ms Peng by employees of state media this weekend while the government stayed silent.
The ruling party has given no indication whether it is investigating Ms Peng’s accusation against Mr Zhang (75), who left the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life.