Chinese triple Olympian tennis player Peng Shuai has disappeared. The hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai is trending around the world and tennis world champions Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic expressed fears on the fate of the 35-year-old star.
On November 2, Peng said on social media that she was sexually assaulted, forced to have sex with Zhang Gaoli, 75, who was Chinese vice premier from 2013 to 2018.
Peng has not been seen in public since and her social media posts have been deleted. Thursday, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) received a statement claiming to be from Peng, retracting his abuse complaint. “I find it hard to believe that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is attributed to him,” said WTA President Steve Simon. The WTA called for an investigation into his complaint and said he was ready to shoot tournaments out of the country if they do not get an appropriate response.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), on the other hand, had remained silent on the disappearance of the Olympian. When the IOC finally commented, it was to endorse the government’s line: “We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by the assurances that she is safe.”
The Chinese government, an IOC partner for the Winter Olympics, frequently forcibly eliminates individuals whose opinions or behavior it considers problematic or embarrassing, resorts to extralegal forms of detention and publishes forced confession make doubtful cases appear legitimate. From Nobel Peace Prize winners to Hong Kong publishers to Interpol chiefs, Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to silence critics.
Given this, it’s astonishing that the IOC accepts government assurances, especially at the expense of an Olympian making serious allegations.
The Chinese government is committing crimes against humanity targeting millions of Uyghurs and intensifying its oppression in Hong Kong and Tibet, while suppressing national and international media. But for the Chinese government, the Olympic Games are a geopolitical event that can elevate the status of the ruling Chinese government and Communist Party at home and abroad.
The February 2022 Beijing Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games are only two months away. Athletes, sports fans around the world and Olympic sponsors should stand up for Peng and use their influence to tackle human rights violations in China ahead of the Games. The Olympics are meant to be a celebration of humanity, not an occasion to mistreat athletes and to cleanse sport from crimes against humanity.