Olympic official rejects Peng Shuai video call criticism as ‘silly’

A senior Olympic official has defended his organisation’s efforts to confirm the safety of Peng Shuai, dismissing criticism as “silly” and saying no one else had been able to get in touch with the tennis star who went missing after publishing allegations of sexual assault.

Dick Pound, who has held a variety of posts with the IOC over 45 years and is the chairman of Olympic Broadcasting Services, rejected criticism of the IOC for giving minimal information after its president, Thomas Bach, spoke with Peng via video link last week. Some had accused the IOC of seeking to not anger Beijing and prioritising the commercial relationship over the safety of athletes. China is due to host the Winter Olympics in February.

Pound’s defence of his organisation’s handling of the case came as calls grow from western countries for China to release clear evidence that Peng is safe.

“The EU requests the Chinese government to provide verifiable proof of Peng Shuai’s safety, wellbeing and whereabouts,” the bloc said in a statement on Tuesday.

It also urged “the Chinese authorities to conduct a full, fair and transparent investigation into her allegations of sexual assault” against a retired senior Chinese official.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday, Pound said criticisms of his organisation were “silly” and “not supported by the evidence”. He said the fact the IOC had been able to contact her when others hadn’t should provide reassurance, and suggested it was not unusual.

“I was disappointed, I thought everyone was anxious to find out that she was fine and healthy. The IOC was able to establish that and the others were not. All of a sudden it becomes somebody else’s fault that their questions haven’t been answered,” he said.

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In an essay posted to social media this month, Peng, a former doubles world No 1, accused Zhang Gaoli, a former Chinese vice-premier, of coercing her into sex her three years ago. The post was quickly deleted and Peng was not seen in public for more than two weeks as the Women’s Tennis Association and colleagues said they were unable to reach her.

As an international campaign for answers on her whereabouts built, fuelled by ham-fisted apparent propaganda released by Chinese state media, the IOC was urged to leverage the Beijing Winter Games to seek assurances of Peng’s safety.

A subsequent 30-minute call with Peng included Bach, the IOC athletes’ commission chair, Emma Terho, and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice-president of the Chinese Tennis Association. Bach said Peng had told them she was safe and well and wanted privacy.

However human rights groups and others advocating for Peng said they remained concerned she was not able to speak freely, and criticised the IOC for not addressing the original allegations, or why Peng had not made any further posts or why her friends could not reach her.

Yaqiu Wang, senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, accused the IOC of “actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery”.

Pound said on Tuesday that people “not on the call” did not have the benefit of knowing what the discussion may have been, and everyone “should be reassured she is fine and healthy and there are no signs of compulsion, rather than speculating what might be the case.”

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The IOC, and Pound specifically, have resisted calls to release the tape of the call.

Meanwhile, a British pro-Beijing commentator for CGTN, China’s state-owned English-language news broadcaster, said on Monday that he had been banned by the outlet for publicly questioning CGTN’s ability to convince the world about Peng’s wellbeing.

CGTN had released text it claimed was an email from Peng to the WTA, but this was widely dismissed as suspicious.

South Korea-based Tom Fowdy said in an English-language post on China’s social media site Weibo that he wrote that piece on the Russian state-owned news website RT because “I love China and I despise what the US are doing in their propaganda war every day”.

“Sometimes though we cannot run away from the truth just because we want to pretend things are great, when they may not be,” he wrote.


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