It has been almost two months since Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai accused a high-level Communist Party official of sexual assault on social media. Within 20 minutes, Peng’s post was taken down and she disappeared from public life. She was also wiped off the internet in China and terms such as ‘tennis’ and the surname ‘Peng’ were censored on the Chinese internet. Since Peng’s disappearance, her multiple staged reappearances have only deepened concerns for her safety and freedom.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has worked with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to kill the story of Peng’s allegations and disappearance The IOC has shown a complete disregard for sexual assault allegations by a female athlete and for the safety and freedom of a three-time Olympian. They have put their business interests and the Beijing Olympics ahead of Peng’s liberty and well-being.
For the Global Athlete podcast I spoke to human rights activist Peter Dahlin about why the IOC’s actions are so problematic. We spoke about…
the use of disappearance in China as a tool of the state,
why Peng’s media appearances fit a pattern of staged public appearances for disappeared people,
Peng’s sexual assault allegations and the lack of a #MeToo movement in China,
how the IOC is doing the bidding of the CCP,
why Peng is better off with consistent international attention,
the contrast between the IOC’s response to Peng’s disappearance and that of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA),
the IOC’s failure to live up to political neutrality,
what the IOC could have done instead, and
what athletes and others concerned about Peng’s safety can do going forward.
You can listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or by searching for ‘Global Athlete’ wherever you listen to podcasts. Some memorable quotes from the conversation are below.
“When the IOC engaged on behalf of the state – of the party – that second time I thought it was unforgiveable.”
“We know for sure that she is not free and that leaves only two options. One is that she is placed under house arrest where she has minders from the police controlling her at home and guiding every aspect of her life. Or if that is not enough or is not suitable for them, instead placing her into the [Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location] system.”
“The #MeToo movement has largely ignored China. In China they have successfully – through censorship – managed to keep this movement and these discussions at bay. It’s very important for them to do that because every society is plagued with these issues. But China is particularly prone to sexual misconduct and the use of power relations from older men against younger women. It’s almost built into the governance system. So the fact that she could spark a greater movement related to #MeToo – that’s what really is the big concern within the party.”
“We do not believe she did this for any political reason. She is just a woman at her wits end who posted this to get it off her chest and wasn’t really aware of what was about to hit the fan.”
“The IOC is doing the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party. The two press releases from the IOC only seeks to help the CCP kill the story.”
“The reason I was angry enough to write this letter is that we know with certainty that attention helps – when they’re inside, the treatment gets better. Whether it’s media attention, diplomatic pressure – it doesn’t really matter. It helps every single time. So the fact that [the IOC] is assisting the Chinese Communist Party in killing the story is troublesome because they are intentionally hurting an athlete rather than helping said athlete.”
“So the IOC’s two videos have directly helped the CCP in their policy goals. They’ve achieved nothing else.”
“As long as we keep talking about the issue, Peng is safer, but it also means that the government will have to continue to find ways to counter the criticism and questions.”
“We don’t know whether or not this man is guilty for sure but it does fit a very common behavior in China, and what we need to push for here is a proper investigation. The IOC has an important role to play here because this person is the director of the committee handling preparations for the Games. It’s incredibly important the IOC at the very least act impartially.”
“I don’t think anyone is looking at expanding a boycott of the Games because I don’t think anyone really wants that, especially at this late stage. And I don’t think anyone is expecting athletes to speak out at the Games because that could bring them in jeopardy as well. Right now it’s more important on pushing the IOC to actually adhere to their neutrality and continue to raise her case in media, in social media, etc.”
I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov for the latest episode of the Global Athlete podcast. It was a unique experience. The logistics of the interview were challenging and there were many layers of approval that had to be attained before and after the conversation took place.
Dr. Rodchenkov gave valuable insight into what he called “the Russia problem” in international sport. He talked about the near impossibility of athletes proving their innocence once they are accused of a doping rule violation, and he discussed whether Russian athletes have the option not to dope.
Search for “Global Athlete” wherever you get your podcasts.
I am hosting a brand new podcast from Global Athlete, and the first episode dropped today, June 15th! You can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Sounder.fm, or by searching for ‘Global Athlete’ wherever you listen to podcasts. Or you can simply press play at the bottom of this post!
The podcast features in-depth conversations about international sport governance, athlete rights, and the future of the Olympic and Paralympic games. New episodes will drop weekly on Tuesdays.
The first episode, out today, gives an overview and history of international sport governance. I spoke with Professor Jules Boykoff of Pacific University about how athletes fit into the Olympic story, the IOC’s governance structure, how the United Nations addresses the democracy deficit of the IOC, and more.
As always, I value your feedback, suggestions, and criticisms. You can reach our whole podcast team at email@example.com or me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I sat down yesterday for a long interview with Toko US brand manager Ian Harvey. We discussed my ski career, my time at Brown, and my work for USADA and Global Athlete. You can find it in video form below or in your favorite podcast app by searching “Interviews with Top US Nordic Ski Athletes and Personalities”.
The U.S. has now criminalized international doping conspiracies.
This is the most meaningful step yet in preventing doping atrocities like the ones carried out by Russia at Sochi 2014.
Athletes are now eligible for restitution when they are defrauded by dopers.
Doping whistleblowers like Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov are now eligible for U.S. Witness Protection.
Celebrate clean sport!
Around 7:30pm Eastern Time today, December 4th, the President signed the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. The bill had unanimously passed both houses of Congress.
The passage of this bill is the culmination of a 3-year effort to create meaningful change in the global anti-doping landscape. The effort was led by Paul Massaro at the U.S. Helsinki Commission. It would not have passed without the work of Travis Tygart and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency staff, Julia Pacetti, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov and his lawyer Jim Walden, Rob Koehler and the team at Global Athlete, Bryan Fogel and the Icarus team, Jim Swartz and the team at FairSport, Han Xiao and Bree Schaaf at the USOPC Athletes’ Advisory Council, and numerous athletes and athlete groups across the country. Katie Uhlaender, in particular, worked to build momentum for the bill. Finally, Yuliya Stepanova and her husband Vitaly exposed the depth of institutional doping in Russia at great personal risk. The clean sport community is indebted to them.
Special thanks as well to Jessie Diggins, Molly Huddle, and Brittney Reese for working with me to show athlete support for this critical piece of legislation.
First, I published this rebuttal today in The Province (a B.C. newspaper) of an article published last week (also in The Province) attacking the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. The attack, filled with spin and misinformation, is in line with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA’s) effort to undermine the legislation. I hope my response will help clear up any confusion caused by WADA’s campaign. Please call your Senators to express your support for the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. We need the power of federal law enforcement in the fight for clean sport to counter systematic state-sponsored doping fraud.
Second, I recorded this conversation a few weeks ago with my friend and former coach Zach Caldwell:
It’s long and wide-ranging. If you don’t have time to listen to the entire hour and twenty minutes (understandable), I recommend starting at 1:03:20 when the conversation turns to the ways the Olympic Solidarity model has failed athletes. In the conversation I reference this study done by Ryerson University, in partnership with Global Athlete, that found that only 4.1% of total revenue in the Olympic movement goes to athletes.
I had the distinct honor of talking to Olympic Champion and track and field icon Edwin Moses about creating change in global sport as part of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s Voices of Clean Sport series. Check out a seven minute edit of the conversation here.
Jessie Diggins and I have an op-ed out today in the Minneapolis Star Tribune encouraging the U.S. Senate to support the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. Eventually the coronavirus crisis will subside and the world’s best athletes will again awe and inspire us. When the competitions resume, we need the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act to ensure a level playing field for the next generation of champions. Check it out here: strib.mn/2vlX0HY