In China people disappear every day, mostly we don’t notice anything. When bloggers or journalists critical of the government disappear, there is a brief outcry. Tech entrepreneur Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, went missing for several months last year. He had previously been critical of the Chinese economic system. The case of tennis player Peng Shuai and the video phone call of the IOC President have caused clear criticism from sports representatives, associations and politicians.
Allegations against party officials
Tennis player Peng Shuai, who won Wimbledon doubles in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, accused Zhang Gaoli, the former vice-premier, in a post on social media of forcing her to have sex about three years ago.
Zhang was a member of the influential Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo. She wrote her post in early November, then the tennis players disappeared. The post was deleted, the censors cut any debate on the case. The online search for your name or the hashtag #MeToo is blocked on the Chinese Internet.
IOC plays a dubious role
Now IOC President Thomas Bach got involved in a 30-minute video session with the Chinese tennis player on Sunday. The video ran on Chinese state television and social media. A clear message from the Chinese leadership: Look here, you are fine. The Winter Olympics will begin in Beijing in February 2022. China doesn’t want bad headlines in the months before that.
Many athletes and experts are now asking themselves: Why did the International Olympic Committee and President Thomas Bach participate? How could Bach do such a thing? Doesn’t he realize that the tennis player would never express herself like that of her own free will?
Clear criticism of the IOC
The “Global Athlete” sports association accused the International Olympic Committee of being “complicit in the malicious propaganda of the Chinese authorities and their lack of interest in basic human rights and justice.” The Athlete Union announced on Monday. She renewed her call for the Chinese Olympic Committee to be suspended until Peng Shuai is allowed to leave China safely and her allegations are investigated.
In contrast to the IOC, the women’s tennis organization is considering a painful step. She threatens to withdraw tournaments from China. That would cost her hundreds of millions of dollars. Nine tournaments took place in China in 2019 alone, and the WTA Finals are also awarded to Shenzhen until 2028.
Boycott of the Winter Games?
There were also calls for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February. The Games are a prestige project of the Communist Party. US President Joe Biden is considering a diplomatic boycott. In other words: the athletes should go, the politicians not – an affront for the regime in Beijing.
The IOC’s tame treatment of authoritarian states like China comes as no surprise. In the past, the IOC avoided any statements about the human rights violations against the Uyghurs or the smashing of the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The IOC repeatedly refers to the separation of sport and politics. At the same time, the committee, above all President Thomas Bach, is now helping the Chinese leadership through the video call. For the athletes’ association “Global Athlete”, the IOC has once again proven with its stance that it “lets athletes down, stands on the side of violent authoritarian regimes and ignores human rights.”