Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she was safe and well in a video call on Sunday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has said, amid growing international demands for assurances that she is free and not under threat.
In a statement, the IOC said Peng had spoken to its president, Thomas Bach, for 30 minutes and thanked the organisation for its concern for her wellbeing.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Ms. Peng, 35, disappeared from the public eye for almost three weeks after she made sexual assault allegations against a senior Chinese minister.
Her absence triggered widespread concern, with international sports stars and governments calling on China to provide proof that she was safe.
“At the beginning of the 30-minute call, Peng Shuai thanked the IOC for its concern about her wellbeing,” the statement from the organisation said.
“She prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now,” it said. “Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis.”
The IOC statement also included an image of the video call taking place, with Ms. Peng seen smiling to the camera.
The outcry over the tennis star’s apparent disappearance from the public eye prompted Chinese state media to release a series of photographs and videos that appeared to show all was well.
Earlier on Sunday, a state media journalist posted a video clip on Twitter showing Ms. Peng smiling while standing with officials at a tennis tournament in Beijing.
Event organisers also published photos of the player on the event’s official WeChat page.
But a spokesperson from the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) told Reuters the videos were “insufficient” evidence of her safety and did not address its concerns about Ms. Peng.
And later on Sunday, the WTA said in a fresh statement that the recent videos “don’t alleviate or address the WTA’s concern about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion”.
“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,” it said.
A rally was also staged in New York on Sunday in support of Peng Shuai by a group of Chinese feminists.
Event organiser Crystal Chen told the BBC that while the released videos and photos appear to show Ms. Peng “physically unharmed”, she was “not truly free”.
“She can’t say whatever she wants to say in a safe condition,” alleges Ms Chen, who has chosen not to be identified by her real name.
Participants of the rally also called for Ms Peng to speak directly with the WTA and for her sexual assault allegations to be addressed.
The former number one-ranked tennis doubles player had in early November posted an allegation about former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo.
She alleged she was forced into sexual relations with Mr. Zhang, in a post that was taken down minutes later.
It was the first time such a claim has been made against one of China’s senior political leaders and the most high profile case in China’s #MeToo movement. (Source: BBC)