IOC interview with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai raises even more questions | MCU Times

IOC interview with Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai raises even more questions

A video call between Olympic officials and Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, whose nearly three-week-long disappearance from the public triggered an outcry, was intended to reassure the world that she was safe – but has instead raised several questions.

The concern grew last week for the former No. 1 ranked doubles player – who had not been seen since he accused a senior Chinese official of sexual assault on November 2. Both tennis stars and fans demanded to know #WhereIsPengShuai, and the leader of the Women’s Tennis Association threatened to pull lucrative events from China.

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said Peng spoke with officials, including IOC President Thomas Bach, in a 30-minute video call from Beijing. According to the organization’s statement, she assured them that she was fine and thanked them for their concern – while asking for privacy.

The IOC posted a picture showing Bach facing a screen where Peng appears, but did not release video of the call. That same day, the China Open released videos and photos of her performance at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing that morning.

The IOC’s brief statement, which provided few details and no follow-up to her allegations, seems unlikely to close the door on Peng’s case – and this leads to growing criticism of the sports body, which was already facing calls for a boycott of Beijing. Winter Olympics, which opens on February 4th.

Even after the statement was released Sunday, the WTA reiterated what President and CEO Steve Simon has been saying for more than a week, calling for a full, fair and transparent investigation “without censorship.”

The IOC was already under pressure due to allegations that China has committed human rights violations against Uighur Muslims, Tibetans and other minorities. China denies the allegations. “We strongly oppose all words and deeds that politicize sport contrary to the Olympic spirit,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Monday when asked about a possible boycott.

The Olympic body has responded to criticism by saying its policy is “quiet diplomacy” and it can argue that its access to Peng shows that it works.

But critics say the movement makes the body an active partner in delivering Beijing’s message – while not giving Peng an open forum to discuss her claims.

Yaqiu Wang, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, tweeted that the IOC is now “actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s forced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery.”

An email to comment on criticism of the IOC’s handling of its contact with Peng was sent to the Olympic body.

This is the second time this year that the IOC has been in the spotlight for pushing ahead with an Olympics: Many wanted the body to cancel the summer games in Tokyo due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Critics note that the IOC has a strong interest in hosting the events because it generates 91% of its revenue from sponsorships and the sale of broadcasting rights at the Games.

Peng is just one of a number of Chinese businessmen, activists and ordinary people which has disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or in suppressing corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

While the ruling Communist Party is quick to obliterate any criticism that this time it came from an athlete, it made it particularly sensitive. State media celebrates the athletes’ victories as proof that the party is making China strong – and the party is on guard to ensure that they cannot use their prominent place and public appeal to erode its image.

The tennis star accused a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault in a post on social media that was quickly removed.

She wrote in part: “I know that you, Deputy Minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high status and power, have said that you are not afraid. With your intelligence you will definitely deny it or you can even use it against me. “You can reject it carelessly. Even though I destroy myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I still want to tell the truth about us.”

Concerns about the censorship of her posts and her subsequent disappearance from the public grew to rage and drew comments from tennis greats such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova.

All the while, the news of her allegations was obscured at home. CNN reported that its signal in China had been blocked while reporting on Peng.

A search for her name on Monday on Weibo, one of China’s leading social media platforms, yielded few posts, and none referring to the allegations of sexual assault or the questions of her whereabouts.

Still missing is Zhang. He left public life about three years ago after being one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee – the top of China’s political power.

The WTA is the first sports body to defiantly stand up to China’s economic influence – in what many see as a stark contrast to the IOC, which says it is powerless to intervene in China’s internal policies.

“The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese government’s malicious propaganda and lack of concern for fundamental human rights and justice,” Global Athlete, an athlete lobby group, said in a statement.

“The IOC showed a complete disregard for allegations of sexual violence and abuse against athletes,” the statement said. “By taking a careless approach to Peng Shuai’s disappearance and by refusing to mention her serious allegations of sexual assault, IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC’s Athletes Commission show an abominable indifference to sexual violence and the well – being of female athletes.”

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