Peng Shuai made sexual assault allegations against senior CCP official Zhang Gaoli before reportedly withdrawing her comments ©Getty Images

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has said that he would support an investigation into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations - but only if the Chinese tennis player wishes to do so.

Bach looks set to meet Peng during the Winter Olympics here in a bid to "convince us in person of her wellbeing and state of mind".

It will be the first time Bach has held an in-person meeting with the three-time Olympian since her whereabouts and safety became a cause for global concern after making sexual assault accusations against a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official.

Last November, Peng published a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo in which she alleged Zhang Gaoli, a former senior vice-premier and senior CCP official, sexually assaulted her 10 years ago.

This was deleted within 20 minutes, and Peng was not seen for more than two weeks afterwards.

Peng reportedly retracted the allegations but there have been concerns raised over the legitimacy of her comments and her ability to speak freely.

The IOC has faced accusations of being complicit with China after holding two video meetings with Peng, with its statements published afterwards not including any references to the allegations or why there is concern for the athlete's welfare.

Bach admitted that he would be willing to investigate any concerns raised by Peng but insisted the ball remained in her court.

IOC President Thomas Bach says he wants to find out whether Peng Shuai's
IOC President Thomas Bach says he wants to find out whether Peng Shuai's "physical integrity was ensured" ©Getty Images

"To be clear I was only in one of a number of calls which have been taking place since November," said Bach.

"The last one I think yesterday or the day before yesterday between members of the IOC team and Peng Shuai, our approach was and is in the interest of Peng to answer the questions concerning a human point of view.

"The question was 'Where is Peng Shuai?'

"This is why we took this approach to get in contact and get to know where she is and as far as possible how she is.

"This can only be achieved if we make contact.

"If you don’t and make a declaration of status you don’t get any further.

"This is why we took this contact in order to find out as much as possible whether the most important human right - her physical integrity was ensured.

"This is why in the first meeting I took the initiative to say ‘I want to personally meet once I arrived in China'.

"This will happen and all these conversations it is not only a sign of respect but necessarily to respect her and listen to her and how she sees the situation and how see wants to live her life.

"This is why we are, step by step, trying to find out and if she wants to have an inquiry of course we would support her in this but it must be her decision.

"It is her life, her allegations.

"We have heard the allegations and withdrawal and we will have the personal meeting and there we will continue the conversation.

"Then we will know better about her physical integrity and mental state when we can finally meet in person and that was the objective of this initiative from the beginning."

Bach previously held a video conference with Peng but wants to meet the tennis player in person ©IOC
Bach previously held a video conference with Peng but wants to meet the tennis player in person ©IOC

Bach defended the staging of the meeting which was described as "highly inappropriate" by Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran, executive director of The Army of Survivors, a survivor-founded organisation formed in response to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal in USA Gymnastics.

Rivers-Cochran warned that the IOC’s response to the Peng case could set the tone for survivors, who may be reluctant to come forward with their own experiences of sexual assault.

The potential dinner with Bach and Peng, will also reportedly be attended by Li Lingwei, vice-president of the Chinese Olympic Committee.

It is due to be held inside the closed-loop management system set up by Beijing 2022 organisers to separate the public from participants at the Games.

"What better way meet than a personal meeting," said Bach.

"We will have the meeting and I am very happy and grateful to Peng Shuai.

"She also wanted to have this and we discussed it in November.

"She will enter this closed loop to have this meeting and once the procedures have finished we will have our meeting.

"We said publicly that we have had information [about her wellbeing] but only via video conference.

"This cannot replace personal contact and appearance and we know from her explanation during this video conference that she is living her in Beijing.

"What she is reporting is that she can move freely and spending time with her family and friends and now we can able to do the next step in a personal meeting to convince us in person of her wellbeing and state of mind."