IOC President Thomas Bach Says Media Should 'Respect' Peng Shuai's Wish for Privacy

The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach asked for Peng Shuai's wish for privacy to be respected after two video calls the IOC had with her raised more suspicion about her well-being.

Concerns for Shuai's safety arose after the three-time olympian vanished from the public eye when she accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a social media post nearly six weeks ago.

The IOC said they've now spoken to her two times. The first was on November 21 and then again more recently at the beginning of December.

"Why don't you respect Peng Shuai in this and let her decide where her priorities are," Bach said.

However, the IOC has not provided any transcripts or video recordings of what was talked about between them during the interactions.

"You have to respect this human being," Bach said Wednesday. "And in such a fragile situation (that) Peng Shuai is in, you have to make all the efforts to build trust. To engage in a human relationship. And this, as you can appreciate, is not easy in a video call."

Others aren't so convinced of her well-being. Teng Biao, a human rights lawyer, said it's clear that Peng is not safe or able to speak freely. All it shows is that she is alive.

Peng Shuai, Tennis, China
IOC President Thomas Bach can't escape repeated questions about Peng and suspicions around two video calls the IOC has had with her. The questions keep coming. And Bach has acknowledged the situation is “fragile.” Above, China's Peng Shuai reacts during her first round singles match against Japan's Nao Hibino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on January 21, 2020. Andy Brownbill, File/AP Photo

"Of course, Peng Shuai is not safe," Teng, a human-rights lawyer born in China but living in the United States, said in a recent interview on CNN. "What we know (through videos) is she's still alive, she's still in China. But she is definitely not safe, not well, and she's totally controlled by the Chinese authorities and nobody knows where she is being detained.

"And so the athletes, if they go to China–nobody can guarantee their safety. Beijing doesn't care about sports, what they care (about)—it's political monopoly. So the No. 1 priority for Beijing is to maintain its one-party rule."

The questions keep coming about Peng's safety, even overshadowing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics called by the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Lithuania.

Bach has acknowledged that Peng's situation is "fragile." He is in the midst of three days of executive board meetings in Switzerland focused on the opening of the Games in Beijing on February 4. But many of the questions at the daily press briefings are about Peng.

Bach said the IOC initiated both calls with Chinese sports officials. He said the IOC was open to more calls and did not rule out an "independent" party being involved. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was suggested to Bach.

Bach said Peng's wishes had to be respected, and he said she has asked for privacy.

Bach has never mentioned her sexual assault allegations against former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli.

He said that other parties were involved in the first two calls including what he termed a "native Chinese on the call."

He was thought to be referring to IOC member from China, Li Lingwei,

"In the running of the calls we all were having the same impression that we could not feel her being under pressure," Bach said. "For the rest we can only report what she reported in the call."

"Many people are saying there are suspicions here and there," Bach added. "It's very easy to have suspicions. Suspicions you can have always and about everything."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach
The president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach asked for Peng Shuai's wish for privacy to be respected after two video calls the IOC had with her raised more suspicion about her well-being. Above, Bach speaks during the Closing Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 08, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. Dan Mullan/Getty Images