After five weeks of concerns over the safety of tennis player Peng Shui in China, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Tuesday it could not confirm his case.
The IOC’s two video calls with the Grand Slam doubles champion are the only reports that Peng has been in contact with people outside China since November 2 when she sent a social media post alleging that she had been sexually assaulted by a former top Communist Party official.
Critics claim the IOC is enabling cover-up by China ahead of a state-sponsored project to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February.
The IOC faced more questions about Peng at its first news conference on Tuesday because the Women’s Tennis Association, unable to speak to her, has postponed all its tournaments in China.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said: “We cannot assure you of anything. “We do our best in the process of what we believe is in the best interests of the athlete’s well-being.”
The Olympic body has repeatedly cited its “quiet diplomacy” policy as likely to succeed with China, whose leader has met and talked directly with IOC President Thomas Bach since Beijing was chosen to host Beijing in 2015.
Bach participated in the first video call on November 21 with three-time Olympian Peng. The call lasted 30 minutes and included Chinese IOC members and athlete representatives.
The IOC was criticized after both video calls for providing any video footage or transcripts of the conversation, raising suspicions that Peng was able to speak freely or travel.
“We cannot guarantee and we do not know the full facts,” Adams said, referring to Peng and Bach’s promise to meet for dinner in Beijing in January. “It’s a perfect road map to at least keep in touch and try to see where she is.”
The WTA’s stance on China was taken after talks with current and former players and was publicly endorsed by Olympic tennis champion Belinda Bensic last week.
On social media, the hashtag WhereIsPengShuai has trended and gained the support of tennis greats like Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Roger Federer.
Asked on Tuesday why Peng had not spoken to tennis players or WTA leaders, Adams said: “I obviously can’t answer because I don’t really know.”
Bach did not attend the online news conference, but the German news agency dpa published an interview with the Olympic leader on Tuesday.
“And I can assure you that all aspects of this case are being discussed with the Chinese side,” Bach said, referring to “discussions with Chinese sports bodies and official bodies.”
Juan Antonio Samranch, a senior IOC member overseeing Beijing’s Olympic preparations, raised questions and said “there is a need to be prudent.”
“Even in this very difficult moment of his life, we have to respect his discretion. And we will do that, “Samranch told a news conference.
The IOC has repeatedly refrained from using words directly referring to Peng’s allegations, or may have restricted her freedom. Instead, statements following video calls only quoted “her condition.”