Out of public view for nearly three weeks, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai appeared during a video call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
The IOC and the Chinese government would like this to be the end of the Peng saga, which has been running since November 2, when she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
This may be wishful thinking on their part.
The interview offered few details, no follow-up to his allegations and invited more questions for the IOC, Peng and China.
This seems unlikely to satisfy Steve Simon, president and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, who has bluntly criticized China and threatened to pull all top WTA events in the country.
Even after the IOC’s video was released on Sunday, the WTA reiterated what Simon had been saying for over a week, calling for a full, fair and transparent “uncensored” investigation.
According to the IOC, Peng had a 30-minute call with Bach, and he said in a statement that she was “safe and well, that she lived at her home in Beijing, but that she would like her privacy. is respected for the moment “.
The IOC said Bach invited Peng, a former No.1-ranked doubles player and three-time Olympian, to dinner while in town overseeing the Beijing Winter Olympics which will open on February 4.
Not only is the IOC now embroiled in this scandal, but it has also been widely criticized for staging the Olympics despite alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans and other minorities.
Yaqiu Wang, spokesperson for Human Rights Watch of Chinese origin, tweeted that the IOC “now actively plays a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda devices.”
Concerns over WTA’s Peng and so many of her top players and retirees – Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Martina Navratilova – and global attention to the social media movement WhereIsPengShuai have put pressure on China, even as news of his allegations faded at home.
CNN reported that its signal in China was blocked around reporting on Peng.
A search of her name on Monday on Weibo, one of China’s leading social media platforms, produced only a few posts about her, and they did not refer to the sexual assault allegation or questions about her. his fate.
The China Open posted a photo with her at Sunday’s youth tournament, but did not mention her in the caption.
Zhang is still missing. He left public life about three years ago after serving as one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the height of political power in China.
The effort to silence Peng reflects the determination of the ruling Communist Party to stifle criticism from its leaders. Athletes are particularly politically sensitive because they are well known, admired for their achievements and used to promote party success.
A three-time Olympian, Peng accused Zhang of sexual assault on social media in China, which was immediately deleted from her heavily censored internet. She also described having a consensual relationship with the Chinese official.
She wrote in part, “I know that for you, Vice Minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high rank and power, you said you were not afraid. With your intelligence you will definitely deny it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it without worry. Even if I destroy myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a butterfly flying into a flame, I will continue to tell the truth about us.
The IOC can claim that its “quiet diplomacy” has worked and has given China a face-saving way. On the other hand, it makes the IOC an active partner in conveying Beijing’s message, without subjecting Peng to an open interview about his allegations.
Although the IOC promotes itself as a non-governmental organization, it is a sports business – like the WTA or the NBA – that generates 91% of its revenue through sponsorships and the sale of broadcast rights.
The WTA is the first sports body to defiantly oppose China’s financial weight, a stark contrast to the IOC, which says it is powerless to interfere in China’s internal policies.
“The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese authority’s malicious propaganda and its lack of attention to basic human rights and justice,” Global Athlete, an athlete lobby group, said in a statement.
“The IOC has shown complete disregard for allegations of sexual violence and abuse against athletes,” the statement said. “By taking a nonchalant approach to Peng Shuai’s disappearance and refusing to mention his serious allegations of sexual assault, IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Athletes’ Commission are showing an abhorrent indifference to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes. “
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