Writes Stephen Wade on the disappearance of former Wimbledon and French Open Single’s champion, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, after publicly stating she was raped by a senior Communist Party official, “IOC call with Chinese tennis star Peng raises more questions“:
Peng is just one of a number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.
While the ruling Communist Party is quick to blot out any criticism, that this time it came from an athlete made it especially sensitive. State media celebrate athletes’ victories as proof the party is making China strong — and the party is vigilant about making sure they cannot use their prominence and public appeal to erode its image.
The tennis star accused a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault in a social media post that was removed quickly.
She wrote in part: “I know that to you, vice minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high status and power, you’ve said you’re not afraid. With your intelligence, you certainly will deny it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it without a care. Even if I’m destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I will still speak out the truth about us.”
Concerns about the censoring of her post and her subsequent disappearance from public view grew into a furor, drawing comments from tennis greats like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Martina Navratilova.
The WTA is the first sports body to defiantly stand up to China’s financial clout — in what many see as a sharp contrast to the IOC, which says its policy is “quiet diplomacy.”
“The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese authority’s malicious propaganda and lack of care for basic human rights and justice,” Global Athlete, a lobby group for athletes, said in a statement.
“The IOC showed a 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 by refusing to mention her serious allegations of sexual assault, IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Athletes’ Commission demonstrate an abhorrent indifference to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes.”
Writes the NY Times in an opinion column:
Like so many victims of China’s repressive system, Ms. Peng has done nothing other than to seek redress for a wrong. Yet the very straightforwardness of her plight inevitably leads to fundamental questions about China’s fitness to host a global sporting event that purports to follow an Olympic ideal of building a better world through sport.
I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time. #whereispengshuai pic.twitter.com/GZG3zLTSC6
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 18, 2021