Where is Peng Shuai?
That’s the query the International Olympic Committee and its president, Thomas Bach, ought to be shouting proper now — loud, demanding, and aimed squarely at the management in China, set to host the Beijing Games in February.
But as a substitute of agency calls for, we’re listening to not way more than faint, servile whispers from Olympic management.
Peng, 35, a Chinese tennis star and three-time Olympian, has been lacking since Nov. 2, when she used social media to accuse Zhang Gaoli, 75, a former vice premier of China, of sexually assaulting her at his dwelling three years in the past. She additionally described having had an on-and-off consensual relationship with Zhang.
Peng wrote that the assault occurred after Zhang invited her to play tennis at his dwelling. “I was so scared that afternoon,” she famous. “I never gave consent, crying the entire time.”
“I feel like a walking corpse,” she added.
The message was rapidly deleted from China’s government-controlled social media web site.
There have been no verifiable indicators of Peng since — no movies or images to show she is secure. Instead, all the exterior world has seen is a stilted message, stated to have been written by Peng and despatched to the WTA, in response to its demand for an inquiry into her allegations. Peng’s supposed response, launched by China’s state-owned broadcaster on Wednesday, instantly raised considerations.
“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai,” it learn, earlier than calling her accusation of sexual assault, made simply weeks in the past, unfaithful. “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”
It reads like a message from a hostage, a pure concern given the Chinese authorities’s lengthy historical past of utilizing power and heavy-handed stress to crush dissent and flatten these it deems responsible of going towards the state.
So, what has been the I.O.C.’s response to a probably endangered Olympian? A neutered, obsequious assertion.
“We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe,” learn an official I.O.C. declaration on Thursday.
What world of fantasy is the I.O.C. dwelling in? Given China’s historical past, we are able to fairly assume the newest missive supposedly written by Peng is a fraud. Peng dared to converse up with power and candor, however not the I.O.C., a Swiss-based group with a historical past of cowing to dictators that goes again to Adolf Hitler and the 1936 Summer Games.
Bach and the broad solid of management at the I.O.C. sometimes use each probability potential to declare the Olympic mission stands for humanity’s highest beliefs. They say all Olympic athletes are a part of a household. Peng was amongst these ranks in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Once an Olympian, they are saying, at all times an Olympian.
That’s an admirable concept, but it surely will get tossed to the wayside when the stakes develop too excessive.
Looming are Beijing’s Winter Games, fueled by big charges for broadcasting rights and company sponsorships and the billions spent by the Chinese authorities in an effort to achieve respect on the worldwide stage.
Do Bach and the I.O.C. have the guts to get up for certainly one of their very own and name out the dictatorial host of its subsequent showcase for a daunting human rights abuse?
The reply, to this point at the very least, isn’t any.
Contrary to the official I.O.C. assertion, nothing is encouraging about this case.
Not if the lengthy historical past of Chinese authoritarianism. Not if you know the way it has been hammering at dissent and silencing anybody with sufficient clout to threaten nationwide order — together with outstanding cultural and business figures like Jack Ma, founding father of the web agency Alibaba.
Not if about how China has suppressed protest in Hong Kong and Tibet, or in the event you concentrate to the therapy of Muslim minorities — deemed genocide by the United Nations and dozens of countries, together with the United States — regardless of Chinese denials.
As predicted by critics, or anybody watching with even a little bit of frequent sense, the I.O.C. finds itself compromised. That’s the price of cozying up to authoritarian hosts like China, which held the Summer Games in 2008, and Russia, the web site of the 2014 Winter Games.
Compare the typical fecklessness of Bach and the I.O.C. with the uncompromising strategy taken by the ladies’s professional tennis tour, which has been unafraid to get up boldly for Peng, a former world No. 1 in doubles.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believe what is being attributed to her,” wrote Steve Simon, chief government of the WTA Tour, in an announcement. “Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government.”
Simon continued: “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.
The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
That’s placing folks over revenue. That’s guts. Professional tennis in China is a lucrative, fast-growing market. The males’s and ladies’s excursions maintain high-profile tournaments there, and the WTA Finals are slated for Shenzhen in 2022.
Given the means feminine tennis gamers have lengthy led on issues of human rights, it’s no shock that Billie Jean King, Serena Williams, Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova have stood strongly for Peng. And it’s no shock youthful stars have adopted swimsuit, led by Naomi Osaka, the torch bearer in the Tokyo Games this previous summer season, who has added her important stature to the refrain asking “Where is Peng Shuai?”
But Bach and the I.O.C., peddlers of Olympic mythology, have but to be part of that refrain. Peng Shuai is a part of the Olympic household, however the I.O.C. overlords lack the backbone to get up for certainly one of their very own.