January 23, 2022

I.O.C., on Defensive, Says It Held Second Call With Peng Shuai

The International Olympic Committee said Thursday that it had held a second call with the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, trying anew to deflect criticism of its light-touch approach to China only months before the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organizations about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai,” the I.O.C. statement said. “This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her. We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting in January.”

As with an earlier call with Peng on Nov. 21, the I.O.C. did not release video or a transcript of the call, nor did it say how Wednesday’s call was arranged or who took part. The previous call included the I.O.C.’s president, Thomas Bach but also an I.O.C. member from China.

Peng, 35, disappeared from public view more than a month ago after she accused Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier of China, of sexual assault. Her disappearance, China’s efforts to censor any mention of her and its sometimes clumsy efforts to suggest she had retracted her claims, have only intensified concerns about her safety with tennis officials, fellow athletes and human rights groups.

The I.O.C. statement, like its earlier statements on Peng, made no mention of her sexual assault claims, referring only to “the difficult situation she is in.”

The latest call, which the I.O.C. said took place on Tuesday, came on the same day the women’s professional tennis tour announced it would suspend all of its events in China, including Hong Kong, until the Chinese government took several measures. It called for the government to stop censoring Peng, allow her to speak and travel freely and “investigate the allegation of sexual assault in a full, fair and transparent manner.”

Olympic officials have been on the defensive for weeks for their relative silence on Peng’s disappearance, which critics of both the organization and of China have derided as an attempt to avoid even the appearance of criticizing a powerful partner. The looming Winter Olympics in China, which will make Beijing the first city to host the Summer and Winter Games, open on Feb. 4.

The I.O.C. has countered that its effort to aid Peng has been a campaign of “quiet diplomacy,” a phrase it repeated in Thursday’s statement.

“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety,” the I.O.C. said. “We have taken a very human and person-centered approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organizations. We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organizations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.”

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