Long-time International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound has said that the “unanimous conclusion” by those on a call with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is that she is “fine.”
As questions continue to swirl about Peng’s well being, Pound called the IOC’s assessment “the best evidence we have at the moment.”
The European Union on Tuesday said it wants China to release “verifiable proof” that Peng is safe and to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into her sexual assault allegations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
One of China’s most recognizable sports stars, Peng publicly accused Zhang of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.
Following the accusation, Peng disappeared from public view, prompting several fellow tennis players to express worry on social media, using the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
On November 21, the IOC said in a statement that its president, Thomas Bach, had a 30-minute video call with three-time Olympian Peng, joined by a Chinese sports official and an IOC official.
The statement said that, during the call, Peng appeared to be “doing fine” and was “relaxed,” saying she “would like to have her privacy respected.” The IOC did not explain how the video call with Peng had been organized and has not made the video publicly available.
The European Union has commented that Peng’s “recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom.”
When asked on how he can ever be sure Peng Shuai’s appearances aren’t staged, Pound, who has not seen footage of the call, told CNN’s Erin Burnett: “There are lots of countries where you can’t easily leave the country. I think a lot of that is speculation.”
Speaking of those on the call, he said: “What we have is hard evidence as we can have and feel. These are people who have dealt with athletes and dealt with pressure.
“They can tell whether somebody is behaving under duress or not.
“Their unanimous conclusion was that she was fine. And she just asked that her privacy be respected for the time being,” he said.
Pound previously told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour he was “puzzled” by the reaction to a video call between Peng and IOC President Bach.
He said that the IOC’s assessment of Shuai was “the best evidence we have at the moment.”
“I would rely on the combined judgment of colleagues,” Pound said, adding that it was “a conversation between four Olympians,” and that his colleagues would have noticed if the conversation wasn’t “relaxed.”
Human Rights Watch China Director Sophie Richardson denounced the IOC’s role in collaborating with Chinese authorities on Peng’s reappearance, while the head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), Steve Simon, said the IOC’s intervention is insufficient to allay concerns about Peng’s safety.
Peng’s case has also raised difficult diplomatic questions for China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics between February 4 and 20.
Late last month, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the government hoped “malicious speculation” regarding Peng’s well-being and whereabouts would stop, adding that her case should not be politicized.
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.
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.
Before retiring as vice premier, Zhang was the head of a Chinese government working group for the Beijing Games. In the role, he inspected venues, visited athletes, unveiled official emblems and held meetings to coordinate preparation work.
Zhang previously met with IOC President Bach on at least one occasion, with the two being photographed together shaking hands in the Chinese capital in 2016.