by Stephen Wade | The Associated Press
Troubled by the disappearance of ally Peng Shuai, some of the world’s most famous tennis players are challenging the Communist Party of China to find answers.
So far it’s an impasse with little effect as tennis players such as Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic – having joined the lobbies of tennis governing bodies, human rights groups, retired players and many athletes – have joined forces to power their profiles. try to convert.
Peng disappeared two weeks ago after making sexual harassment allegations against former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli, who was a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee and lieutenant to General Secretary Xi Jinping.
Athletes can feel pressure points.
China is just 2 1/2 months away from hosting the Beijing Winter Olympics, which is facing a diplomatic boycott over allegations of crimes against humanity involving at least one million Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. NBA player Enes Kanter has been the most vocal in defending the Uighurs, calling Xi a “brutal dictator”.
Peng’s case is unique. She is a star athlete and has a platform and credibility that few other women in China have shared. The attempt to silence Peng reflects the Communist Party’s determination to suppress criticism of its leaders and prevent any organized public reaction.
Athletes are particularly sensitive politically because they are famous and admired. The ruling party publicizes its victories, especially the victories of a three-time Olympian like Peng, as proof it is making China stronger again.
China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the matter. Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told the media on Friday that the issue was “not a diplomatic question and I am not aware of the situation.”
Peng wrote a lengthy social media post on November 2 in which she said she was forced to have sex with Zhang three years ago. The post was immediately removed from Peng’s verified account on Weibo, a major Chinese social media platform. But screenshots of the explosive allegations were shared on the internet.
Athletes have been weighing in ever since.
“Censorship is not okay at any cost,” Osaka wrote on social media, adding the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
Williams said: “It should be investigated, and we should not remain silent.”
“It is appalling. I mean, one person is missing,” Djokovic said at the ATP Finals in Turin, Italy. “The whole community, the tennis community, needs to support him and his family, make sure he is safe and sound. Healthy because if you do a tournament on Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it will be a bit awkward.”
The players are encouraged by the unequivocal support of the Women’s Tennis Association and its President and CEO Steve Simon. Simon has threatened to pull WTA events out of China. That is, about a dozen next year, including the WTA Finals.
“There are times in our world today when you get caught up in issues like business, politics, money deciding what’s right and what’s wrong,” Simon said in an interview on CNN.
“And we’re certainly prepared to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it because . . . it’s bigger than business.”
The Professional Tennis Players Association has called for player solidarity to defend Peng, who is known as a fearless competitor.
“We must unite and be ready to act until the world is provided with corroborative evidence about the goodness of Peng Shuai,” the association said.
US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman tweeted: “We are deeply concerned by reports that tennis player Peng Shuai appears to be missing, and we join the call for the PRC to provide independent, verifiable evidence of his whereabouts Women everywhere deserve reports of sexual harassment to be taken seriously and investigated.”
Liz Throsel, spokeswoman for the UN Human Rights Office in Geneva, said on Friday she was calling for “an investigation with full transparency into allegations of sexual assault.”
Global Athletes, an advocacy group, has asked the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee to suspend the Chinese Olympic Committee until Peng’s safety is guaranteed.
“The IOC must use its substantial advantage to ensure that the international community is provided with proof of Peng’s whereabouts, that Peng is promptly given safe passage from China, and that allegations of sexual harassment have a legal basis.” A thorough and transparent investigation is conducted,” Global Athlete Head Rob Koehler said in a statement.
Despite Peng being a former Olympian, the IOC is silent. A sports business, it derives 91% of its income from selling broadcast rights and sponsorships. But it prefers to cast itself as a non-governmental organization whose role is to defend high-profile ideas such as “promoting a peaceful society concerned with the protection of human dignity”, which appears in its Olympic charter. Is.
Kirsty Coventry, the head of the IOC’s Athletes Commission, which represents the interests of Olympic athletes, did not comment. The IOC always says that athletes are their first priority, but some athletes are under increasing pressure to get a bigger slice of the IOC’s billion-dollar pie.
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find solutions to questions of such a nature.” IOC said in a statement. “This explains why the IOC will not comment further at this stage.”
It also said it had received assurances that Peng was “safe”.
Human Rights Watch said, “It is surprising that the IOC would accept the government’s assurances, especially at the cost of making serious allegations by a female Olympian.”
The World Olympian Federation declined to issue a statement. It claims to represent 100,000 living Olympians. It was founded by Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr., who heads the IOC’s preparation for the Beijing Olympics, starting on 4 February. IOC President Thomas Bach is the Honorary President.
“With the Winter Olympic Games pending, the IOC has more leverage than any other organization,” Kohler of Global Athletes wrote to the AP. “They need to use it now. Athletes going to these Games are looking at how the IOC will protect the athletes.
AP reporter Joe McDonald in Beijing contributed to this report.
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