BEIJING (Reuters) – The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has answered the question of the whereabouts of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after meeting her during the Beijing Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday.
Former doubles world number one Peng’s well-being became a matter of global concern when she appeared to allege on social media in November that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her in the past.
After that post, which was quickly removed, she disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks and the Women’s Tennis Association suspended all tournaments in China over concerns regarding her safety and security.
The IOC has previously come under criticism for its stance during the saga. Human Rights Watch said the IOC’s interest seemed to be to keep the Games on track, not the welfare of athletes, a suggestion rejected by the committee.
A three-time Olympian, Peng’s presence during the Games had been a matter of speculation since the IOC said it planned to meet with her in Beijing.
In an interview on Sunday Peng denied she had accused anyone of sexual assault. Bach had met her on Saturday for dinner.
“We were trying to answer the question everybody was asking: ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ This is why we took this human-centred approach from the very beginning,” Bach told reporters.
“This is why we invited her for a meeting here, to show everybody it is not just a one-off effort. We will keep this contact up. We answered the question ‘where is Peng Shuai?’ We are continuing by having invited her to come to Lausanne.”
The IOC’s headquarters are in the Swiss city and Bach said the meeting would most likely take place during the summer months. The IOC has said it would support her in any decision she made regarding her allegation, whether she wanted an investigation or not.
Peng has attended several sports event at the Games including the Big Air competition and curling as well as figure skating. She has smiled and waved at spectators.
“You could see it in her appearances that she is enjoying the Games, enjoying being among athletes and the public and this is why we are continuing to have this contact,” Bach said.
“It is about caring for her. It is a human thing. It is about a person and the feelings, the emotions of one person.
“I hope I will meet her again in the summer in Lausanne to show that this caring is not finished with the Games. It is an ongoing effort.”
(Reporting by Reuters Television, Writing by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)