International Olympic Committee Entering Dangerous Waters

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is supposedly engaging in risky behavior as it takes part in a call with Peng Shuai. This communication was meant to reassure the public of her safety following a three weeks of inactivity. Peng Shuai is a 35-year old World Doubles number one as ranked by the WTA, being the first Chinese player to achieve this status. In November 2021, Peng had accused the former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her, which was followed by her abrupt disappearance from the public spotlight. The matter was subject to censorship by the Chinese government. Her disappearance has since raised the concern of the media and global tennis community.

Peng had a call with IOC President Thomas Bach to assure people she was safe after her whereabouts received weeks of attention from Western media. However, as Chinese Researcher Alkan Alkad, from Amnesty International, states, “The IOC is entering dangerous waters. They should be extremely careful not to participate in any whitewash of possible human rights violations.” China has a history of staging videos or calls where those detained may be forced to say scripted testimonies to assure the public of their safety and alleviate attention from the matter. 

Activist group Human Rights Watch has since raised alarms regarding the virtual call between Peng and Bach, accusing the IOC of “sports washing,” or helping China launder its reputation through sports ahead of the Winter Olympics, according to Jezebel. The Organization’s director, Sophie Richardson, said at a Press Conference, “The IOC has shown in the last few days just how desperate it is to keep a Games [Olympic] on the rails no matter the human cost.” The International Olympics Committee emphasized that Peng was doing “well” and wanted her privacy respected. However, as CCN highlighted, there exists no explanation about who organized the call between the two parties. This subsequently raised alarm that the call may have been organized by the government as part of a propaganda push. 

Peng Shuai is not the first famous person to have disappeared mysteriously from the public limelight after rubbing elbows with the government. Another famous example would be Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, who stopped making public appearances following Oct 2020 when he expressed dissent regarding government regulations. Real Estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang criticized the government’s way of handling COVID-19. He was then sentenced to prison under corruption charges. Hence, the pattern of government-forced disappearances is not without precedent. 

As Alkan Akad says, “The Chinese government has a track record, especially the state-run media outlets, of fabricating statements or making people give forced and sometimes televised testimonies shortly after people go missing.” Amnesty International hence encourages China to fully investigate the sexual assault allegations, especially if government officials and other household names are involved.