The disappearance of Peng Shuai had shocked athletes all over the world. The Chinese tennis player and 2-time grand slam doubles champion had not been seen in public since accusing a top-ranking Communist Party member of sexual harassment.
Peng Shuai had taken to Weibo, China’s social media platform, to share her story of sexual abuse. In the post, she named Zhang Gaoli, a former vice-premier and member of the Communist party’s Politburo Standing Committee as her abuser. Given the strict control exercised over social media in China, the post was soon taken down, and a spokesperson for the Communist Party denied all allegations. However, Peng’s disappearance had raised concerns of top sportspersons and major athletic bodies; all of whom had issued strict reprimands to China.
IOC’s video call with Peng Shuai
The upcoming winter Olympics are supposed to take place in Beijing, China. Under the circumstances, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been under tremendous pressure, as a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics is gaining momentum.
On Sunday, a video call was organised between the IOC and Peng Shuai. The call, which lasted 30 minutes, included Shuai, Thomas Bach, President of the IOC, Li Lingwei, IOC’s Chinese representative, and Emma Terho, IOC-AC’s chairperson. After the call ended, IOC issued a statement saying Peng Shuai is “safe and well” and would “like her privacy to be respected”. It further said “That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now. Nevertheless, she will continue to be involved in tennis, the sport she loves so much.”
IOC’s video call termed a “media exercise”
The photos and videos of Peng Shuai provided by the Chinese government, and now, the video call with IOC have done little to quell the fear amongst the people. All they offer is proof of life, but there is no information on Shuai’s overall well-being. In fact, the IOC was heavily criticized for taking part in the video call, that most people assume was a tactic of the Chinese government to placate the people protesting the Beijing Winter Olympics.
Nikki Dryden is a human-rights lawyer, and a former swimmer who represented Canada in the Olympics. She has termed the IOC’s action over the Shuai case as a “media exercise” to counter the threats towards the upcoming Winter games. She said “I’m so relieved she’s alive, but the execution of this proof-of-life video is really troubling from a safeguarding perspective. It seems very political to me that Bach would have this call with the athletes’ commission chair – who is probably somewhat appropriate – and then the IOC member from China. That’s not a safeguarding call by any means. Tennis should have been able to have that call, it should have been a safeguarding officer having that call – not a publicity stunt.”
Dryden further added “Nothing in the press release from the IOC makes me feel comfortable that she is safe, that she feels she’s not being retaliated against or coerced. They have taken control of this because they are so concerned with the narrative around Beijing [Winter Olympics] they didn’t want anything to go wrong with this.”
IOC’s participation is shameful – Elaine Pearson
Elaine Pearson, director of the Australian chapter of the Human Rights Watch also criticised the IOC, saying “Frankly, it is shameful to see the IOC participating in this Chinese government’s charade that everything is fine and normal for Peng Shuai. Clearly it is not, otherwise, why would the Chinese government be censoring Peng Shuai from the internet in China and not letting her speak freely to media or the public.”
“IOC’s staged conversation is tone-deaf” – Craig Foster
Football player and activist Craig Foster also raised his voice against IOC’s seeming inactions. He said “The IOC’s staged conversation with Peng Shuai could not be more tone deaf in terms of women’s rights and protections and in dealing with a survivor of sexual assault. The concept that a conversation with Thomas Bach followed by a ‘catch-up over dinner’ is a satisfactory resolution of a very serious matter or an appropriate response to allegations of sexual abuse by an athlete which include censorship and likely coercion by an IOC member state, is emblematic of the failed concept of Olympism.”