IOC Doubles Down on Losing China Strategy

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International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, left, talks to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, January 31, 2019. 
© 2019 AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool

“We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation,” the International Olympics Committee (IOC) said in a December 2 statement, revealing it had held a second closed call with Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. Meanwhile, Peng has not spoken publicly since November 2, when she took to social media to allege sexual assault by China’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.

In the statement, the IOC reiterated that Peng is “safe and well,” but again failed to mention the Chinese government’s erasure of Peng from China’s internet or to call for a fair and transparent investigation into her sexual assault allegation. Yet it did confirm that the IOC plans to have dinner with Peng in January. The statement also used language eerily similar to Chinese government rhetoric: “people-centered approach” is a phrase that President Xi Jinping’s government frequently uses to justify policies linked to human rights abuses.

“Lots of people around the world were looking to see what happened to Peng Shuai and nobody was able to establish contact. Only the IOC was able to do so,” said IOC official Dick Pound last week. The IOC is apparently proud of this, but the fact that only the IOC has been able to speak to Peng would indicate that she is not actually “safe and well.”

The Chinese government has forcibly disappeared numerous people for speaking their mind or seeking redress for injustices. Many were then made to profess their safety and well-being or to confess to their “crimes” on state media. Some later recanted their story after being released from custody or gaining freedom abroad. In the case of the prominent human rights lawyer Wang Yu, authorities threatened her son’s safety to compel her to appear on television and denounce international support for her case. One can imagine what a painful and humiliating experience that was for Wang, and whether Peng is feeling the same now.

For the IOC to participate in the Chinese government’s long-running scheme is simply outrageous. It had prompted tennis legend Martina Navratilova to quip, “The IOC sucks, and you can quote me on that.” Now it has doubled down. If the IOC wants any human rights credibility, it should stop collaborating with the authorities responsible for denying Peng her rights and act publicly on her behalf.

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