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The International Olympic Committee plans to meet with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai during the upcoming Olympics in Beijing in what the IOC says is an attempt to allay concerns about her well-being.
Human rights activists and international observers have expressed concern about Peng's whereabouts since Nov. 2, when she alleged in a Weibo social media post that a retired high-ranking Chinese government official had sexually assaulted her. Following that post, which Chinese officials scrubbed from the country's highly-censored internet in less than a half hour, she disappeared from public view for two weeks, and her later appearance was a well-choreographed operation. She later said she had made no accusations and that her post had been misinterpreted.
IOC president Thomas Bach met with Peng by video later in November, and the IOC said in a statement that their meeting was the start of a communication that has continued. Experts on Chinese policy, however, said that the initial call was part of an orchestrated propaganda campaign.
"Since the first call that the IOC held with Peng Shuai on 21 November 2021, the IOC team has kept in touch with her and had a number of conversations with her — the last one just the past week," an IOC spokesperson said. "In this way, we got to know each other better."
The Women's Tennis Association has taken a less conciliatory tone than the IOC, seeking further proof of Peng's safety while also suspending tournaments in China in response to her absence.
The IOC statement indicated that Peng will meet with Bach and Emma Terho, chair of the IOC Athletes' Commission. The meeting will take place within the bubble China has established to keep visiting athletes, journalists and officials from interacting with the Chinese population. The Olympics are slated to begin Feb. 4.
"In arranging the different conversations," the IOC said in the statement, "the Chinese Olympic Committee has always been very supportive and will also ensure that the meeting can happen even under very strict COVID-19 countermeasures and in the closed loop that is in place during the Games."
Peng's situation briefly claimed headlines at the Australian Open when several demonstrators wore "Where's Peng Shuai?" t-shirts at the event. Tournament organizers initially banned the demonstrations before relenting.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.