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IOC Cannot Give 'Absolute Certainty' Amid Growing Concern About Peng Shuai

Editor’s note: This story contains descriptions of sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault and need support, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or at https://www.rainn.org

The International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday that it cannot give certainties on Peng Shuai's case despite speaking to her twice via video. 

In its first press conference since the Women's Tennis Association suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, per the Associated Press, “We can’t provide you with absolute certainty on anything. All we can do is do the best we can in the process that we believe is in the best interests of the well-being of the athlete.”

The two video calls with the Olympic body are the only reported contacts Peng has made outside of China since her Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform, when the retired WTA veteran accused a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party of sexual assault. 

The IOC has continued to cite its “quiet diplomacy” because "given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, [it] is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters."

Video footage and transcripts have not been released for either of the video calls, the second being on Dec. 1. Per the IOC's statement the next day, Peng and the body "have already agreed on a personal meeting in January." 

“We can’t give assurances and we don’t know the full facts,” Adams said, per the AP. “It’s a full road map to at least attempt to keep in touch and to see where she is.”

WTA chair and chief executive Steve Simon announced earlier this month that the organization would suspend all tournaments in the country, which they have 10 events scheduled in China for 2022—including the Finals. 

"In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault," Simon said in a statement. "Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."

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The WTA reportedly has yet to have direct contact with Peng. The retired tennis star's allegations are the first public accusation of this nature against a senior Communist Party official. For over two weeks following the post, no one reportedly had spoken with her directly as an email sent to Simon as well as photos and a video were released by state-affiliated media.

International tennis stars, including Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams, voiced their concerns on social media, and politicians, including Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, called for President Joe Biden and members of his administration to "suspend any high-level dialogues with China until China responds satisfactorily to our inquiries about Peng Shuai’s safety."

The White House joined the call "for PRC authorities to provide independent and verifiable proof of her whereabouts and that she is safe," per press secretary Jen Psaki, while the United Nations made a similar request. 

And although the IOC claimed that Peng was "safe and well" following the first video call from Beijing, this did not stop the growing concerns as the European Union joined the call for an investigation and proof of her safety. The call left Simon still “deeply concerned” about Peng's whereabouts and ability to “communicate freely, openly and directly."

From 2012 to '17, Zhang Gaoli served on the party's Politburo Standing Committee, the "top ruling body" of the country, per The Times. Shuai alleged in her post that Gaoli forced her to have sex with him.

"Why did you have to come back to me, took me to your home to force me to have sex with you?" she wrote, per CNN.

The post, which also described an on-and-off consensual relationship with Gaoli, was removed within minutes, according to The Times, and searches of Shuai's name and "tennis" reportedly appeared to be blocked.

"None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable," Simon said in a previous statement. "If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded—equality for women—would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players." 

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