Add Peng Shuai’s disappearance to upcoming Olympic controversies in China

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The alarm bells that have been ringing for years about the Beijing Winter Olympics have become deafening.

The accumulation of controversies over the attribution of another Olympic Games in Beijing has lasted for years. The crackdown in Hong Kong, accusations of human rights crimes against Uyghurs, military threats against Taiwan and the general suppression of citizens’ rights and freedom of information have heightened concerns and increased pressure on the Committee international olympic.

On Thursday, President Biden said the United States was considering a diplomatic boycott of the Games, a largely symbolic statement that would not affect athlete participation. Human rights groups call for a trade boycott.

But few could have predicted the turn these concerns have taken in recent days.

The saga of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has shone the spotlight on the Chinese government’s hard-line approach to quelling dissent.

It is not very nice to make a former Olympian disappear barely eleven weeks before the start of the Games.

As the Women’s Tennis Association and its most prominent stars – Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert – speak out against China, the body with the most weight, the IOC, looks predictable inefficient and passive.

Here’s the background: Peng, a three-time Olympian and one of China’s biggest tennis stars, has been missing since Nov. 2, when she used her verified social media account to accuse former vice premier Zhang Gaoli Chinese minister, for sexually assaulting her. three years ago.

The post was quickly removed from the government-controlled website. Since then, there has been no physical evidence of Peng. Online references to her have been removed in China. Steve Simon, CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, called on China to investigate the allegations, threatened to stop doing business in China, and said his organization was unable to contact her.

This week, a hard-to-believe message was released by state-owned China Global Television. Claiming to be Peng, the post said the WTA’s statements regarding their concerns had not been “verified” by her.

“Hello everyone, this is Peng Shuai…. The news in this release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I am not absent and I am not safe. rest at home and all is well Thank you again for caring about me.

Simon, who has been more courageous than the NBA and other sporting entities in standing up to China, quickly suggested the stilted email was a fraud. Entities around the world, including the United Nations, are expressing concern, while China’s foreign ministry continues to say it is “unaware” of the situation making international headlines.

And what is the response of the IOC, the entity that is responsible for the well-being of athletes while in bed with Beijing?

“We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by the assurances that she is safe,” said an IOC spokesperson. “We are in contact with the International Tennis Federation which continues to monitor the situation.”

One way to defend a member of the “Olympic family”.

As usual, the IOC is more concerned with protecting its business partner than the well-being of the athletes or the integrity of sport. The IOC has billions at stake in the next Olympics. The Chinese government wants a propaganda platform, similar to the one it had at the 2008 Summer Games. No rocking the boat, please.

These 2008 Games were widely viewed as a propaganda machine, aimed at ensuring that the new China was an open and welcoming place. Thirteen years later, that will be the goal again, no matter how it didn’t work the first time around. And skating, snowboarding, and skiing are meant to distract from all those other stories about China.

Look at the Triple Axel! Ignore this “re-education” camp.

Of course, the IOC has a long history of submission to dictatorships, dating back to its intimate relationship with Hitler. And in recent years, as it struggled to find cities interested in demanding the right to sink into debt and upheaval and be deprived of their self-government, the IOC has come to rely on more and more on authoritarian regimes.

The Sochi Games in 2014 provided Vladimir Putin with a propaganda stunt, which – ultimately – included large-scale state-sponsored doping. All of the potential host cities for the 2022 Games except Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing have embarrassingly dropped out.

The Olympics are an increasingly problematic exercise in today’s world, as evidenced by the ridiculous Tokyo Games, reluctantly forced upon the Japanese public in the midst of a pandemic, turning Tokyo into little more than a multi-billion dollar soundstage for the NBC TV show.

Does the United States, scheduled to host the 2028 Games, have a moral authority that allows them to shame other Olympic hosts? With our growing spread of disinformation, domestic terrorism, miscarriage of justice, and the suppression of rights, not really.

The problem right now is Beijing. And as Peng’s troubling situation illustrates, none of the athletes who visited China in February can believe the IOC will protect them.

Ann Killion is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @annkillion


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