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.”