Just days after abandoning her attempt to make the Olympic team for Beijing, China’s most famous badminton player reported Monday to Olympic officials that she is safe.
Peng Shuai’s letter to the executive board of the International Olympic Committee led to what Chinese sport officials said was “a completely positive and cooperative” conversation about her future.
The executive board was expected to meet later Monday.
China’s Olympic team issued a statement saying Peng had reported that she was “in the highest sense of safety,” while also agreeing that she should not compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament in August.
That tournament was canceled this week, with all four players from China having dropped out, apparently because of uncertainty over the threat of legal action from the anti-doping body.
Chinese officials, who strongly criticized fellow China player Lin Dan for withdrawing from that tournament, made their announcement after discussions with officials in Singapore.
Peng’s letter prompted an angry reaction in China, with many pointing to her participation in the Olympic qualifying tournament in South Korea and also in the team trials last week.
Peng’s email letter, first posted on social media by a sympathetic fan, appears to have “catapulted the story into the global arena,” said Philip Adams, editor of international news service Open Rope Press.
“It shows this issue has reached a stage where the athlete is fearful for her safety in the country,” Adams said. “It’s very unusual. There’s no precedent for an athlete to turn herself in to the IOC.”
Adams added that the news shows that players have more power than thought in the Olympics and perhaps also the broader sports world. “These athletes have more clout than they’re likely to realize,” he said.
Peng’s email also cited the threatened withdrawal of her Chinese badminton federation’s sponsorship and a further possible injunction against her results in the matches before the world championships in August.
Chinese sports officials said Peng’s condition was “extremely serious” but did not say what had caused it. China’s sports newspaper said she had “sought protection and security.”
The Chinese federation issued a statement Monday from its president and Peng’s former coach, in which they said the athlete was “correct” in her decision to stop the qualifiers for Beijing.
“She has obviously been thinking about her future in badminton. We can understand very well that for an athlete like her, she has to make a decision,” Zhang Peng said. “We can also understand that the match that she has played in South Korea and the team trials in Chengdu put added pressure on her.”
Peng reported her decision to stop the team trials last week after being allowed a leave of absence from the Beijing tournament, according to Sports Illustrated.
Chinese badminton officials responded to criticism from Lin, the two-time Olympic champion, by saying that “his badminton has been damaged” by the cloud of legal threats around the Games.
Peng had a breakthrough after joining the Beijing club at the beginning of 2014, the Sports Illustrated article said.
China, which has dominated badminton for many years, entered five of the top six players in the world rankings when the Olympics are held every four years.
But Brazil’s Marta Telles was the highest-ranked player to withdraw from this week’s qualifying event in South Korea, leaving China in a holding pattern until Beijing.
The International Olympic Committee, which faced criticism from anti-doping officials and members over the upcoming Olympics, has stressed the need for clean competition at the games, which open Aug. 5.
The IOC says several new anti-doping laws are being passed in China.
The new regime contains provisions for a maximum eight-year suspension and two-year appeal process for athletes who fail drug tests, in addition to the one-year ban imposed for doping offenses by the sport’s world governing body.