Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis player who has been out of the public eye for over three weeks, has appeared in a video conversation with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
The International Olympic Committee and the Chinese government would want this to be the final chapter in Peng’s tale, which began on November 2 when she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
It’s possible that this is wishful thinking on their behalf.
There were little facts in the interview, no follow-ups on her claims, and more questions for the IOC, Peng, and China.
It’s unlikely to satisfy Steve Simon, the Women’s Tennis Association’s chairman and CEO, who has been outspoken in his criticism of China and has threatened to yank all top-tier WTA events from the nation.
Even after the IOC footage was released on Sunday, the WTA echoed Simon’s plea for a comprehensive, fair, and transparent investigation “without censorship,” which he has been making for more than a week.
Peng spoke with Bach for 30 minutes, according to the IOC, and he stated that she is “safe and healthy, living at her house in Beijing, but would prefer her privacy respected at this time.”
According to the IOC, Bach invited Peng, a three-time Olympian and former No. 1 doubles player, to dinner while in town to monitor the controversial Beijing Winter Olympics, which begin on Feb. 4.
Not only is the IOC now entangled in this issue, but it has also come under fire for continuing to hold the Olympics despite allegations of crimes against humanity against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans, and other minorities.
The IOC is now “actively playing a part in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion, and propaganda apparatus,” according to Yaqiu Wang, a China-born representative for Human Rights Watch.
The WTA and many of its top and retired players, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Martina Navratilova, have expressed concern for Peng, and the global attention on the WhereIsPengShuai social media movement has put pressure on China, even if the news of her allegations is blacked out at home.
CNN said that their signal in China was disrupted during its coverage of Peng.
Only a few posts about her were found Monday on Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media sites, and they didn’t mention the sexual assault claim or the inquiries about her location.
China Open shared a photo of her from Sunday’s kids competition, but the caption did not include her.
Zhang is still missing. He retired from public life around three years ago after serving on the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s highest political body.
Peng’s attempt to be silenced illustrates the Communist Party’s intention to muzzle criticism of its leaders. Athletes are particularly politically sensitive because they are well-known, appreciated for their accomplishments, and utilized to promote the success of the party.
Peng, a three-time Olympian, accused Zhang of sexual assault on Chinese social media, which was quickly removed from the country’s strictly regulated internet. She also stated that she and the Chinese official had a mutually beneficial connection.
“I know that you, vice minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high position and authority, have stated that you are not afraid,” she wrote. With your intelligence, you may easily refute it or even use it against me, dismissing it without a second thought. I’ll speak out the truth about us even if it means destroying myself, like tossing an egg on a rock or a moth flying into a flame.”
The IOC may claim that their “quiet diplomacy” paid off, allowing China to salvage face. On the other side, it makes the IOC a key player in communicating Beijing’s message while avoiding an open interview with Peng regarding her charges.
Although the IOC presents itself as a non-governmental organization, it is a sports company that derives 91 percent of its revenue from sponsors and the sale of broadcast rights, similar to the WTA or NBA.
In contrast to the IOC, which claims it has no capacity to meddle in China’s domestic affairs, the WTA is the first sports organization to brazenly stand up to China’s financial influence.
Global Athlete, a lobbying group for athletes, said in a statement that the words made the IOC complicit in the Chinese government’s damaging propaganda and disregard for basic human rights and justice.
According to the statement, “the IOC exhibited utter disdain for charges of sexual assault and abuse against athletes.” “IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Athletes’ Commission display an awful disregard to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes by treating Peng Shuai’s disappearance casually and refusing to acknowledge her severe claims of sexual assault.”