Opinion: IOC backs China and Beijing Games instead of condemning treatment of Peng Shuai, Uyghurs

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The International Olympic Committee is already complicit in the coercion and abuse of millions of Chinese residents in the interest of appeasing its 2022 hosts. What’s one more?

The supposedly “neutral” IOC was a willing participant Sunday in the Chinese government’s efforts to whitewash its troubling treatment of tennis player Peng Shuai, who has barely been seen and still has not been heard from in an independent format since accusing a former high-ranking official of sexual assault nearly three weeks ago.

With criticism and suspicion rising across the globe, and the Beijing Olympics just over two months away, China is desperate to shift the focus elsewhere. And the IOC was only too happy to oblige, announcing that President Thomas Bach had held a 30-minute video call with Peng and all was fine! Just fine!

There was a photograph of Bach conversing with a smiling Peng to accompany the press release, as well as fawning and over-the-top confirmations of the three-time Olympian’s well-being.

“She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now,” the IOC said in its release, its wording eerily similar to an email Peng supposedly sent WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon last week.

IOC president Thomas Bach said he had a 30-minute video call with tennis player Peng Shuai.
IOC president Thomas Bach said he had a 30-minute video call with tennis player Peng Shuai.

Why, things are going so swimmingly with Peng that the former world No. 1 in doubles and Bach are going to have dinner when the IOC’s grand poobah gets to Beijing in January. (How that’s even possible given anyone connected to the Games is supposedly subject to a “closed loop” that prohibits interaction with the outside world is a detail the IOC probably prefers be left unnoticed.)

But it is obvious this was little more than a sham. The IOC did not make any audio from the call with Peng available. It did not arrange a news conference so Peng could assure reporters herself that she is OK. It didn’t even acknowledge Peng’s sexual assault allegations, or mention the concern that prompted the need for such a call with the IOC.

In a Nov. 2 post on Weibo, a Chinese social media site, Peng said she’d been sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, China’s former vice premier. The post was quickly taken down, and Peng has been largely out of sight and unreachable by anyone outside China since.

“By taking a nonchalant approach to Peng Shuai’s disappearance and by refusing to mention her serious allegations of sexual assault, IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Athletes’ Commission demonstrate an abhorrent indifference to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes,” Global Athlete said in a scathing statement.

“The IOC’s actions today again demonstrate that the organization fails athletes, aligns with abusive authoritarian regimes and disregards human rights.”

If anyone is surprised by this, they haven’t been paying attention. Under Bach, the IOC’s only guiding principle is self-interest.

The IOC has effectively given Russia a pass for its state-sponsored doping campaign, despite the pleas of clean athletes, because Russian president Vladimir Putin threw the IOC a $51 billion party in 2014 in Sochi. China has thumbed its nose at the promises it made to improve human rights ahead of the Beijing Games in 2008, and the IOC is so unbothered it went ahead and awarded the city another Olympics, making it the first to host both Summer and Winter Games.

Pressed to condemn China’s genocide of the minority Uyghur population, or its crackdowns on democracy in Hong Kong, the IOC has shrugged, saying it is not a political organization.

“We are not a super world government where the IOC could solve or even address issues for which not a United Nations Security Council, no G7, no G20 has a solution,” Bach said in March. “This is in the remit of politics.”

Oh, but when Bach wanted the Pyeongchang Olympics to occur without the threat of war hanging over them, he had no problem brokering a truce with North Korea. That he was touted by some as being deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts surely didn’t hurt.

What makes Bach and the IOC’s willingness to put shiny new stadiums and fat checks from sponsors ahead of actual human beings particularly galling is that they are one of the few entities that has sway with these dictators and despots.

Hosting an Olympics is an immense source of pride for these authoritarian regimes, a way to show off their power, wealth and status. Even the mere threat of taking them away would be a colossal embarrassment. Think it’s any coincidence that video call between Peng and Bach took place two days after Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, suggested Beijing could be stripped of the Olympics if the situation wasn’t revolved?

Simon and the WTA have been relentless in their calls for China to produce Peng and allow her to speak, and all they got in response was a fishy-looking email. Pound, the IOC’s floater of trial balloons, tells Reuters the situation “may spin out of control” and “whether that escalates to a cessation of the Olympic Games I doubt it. But you never know," and lo and behold, Peng is suddenly available for a video chat.

The IOC has the capability to protect people who desperately need it from dangerous leaders and vengeful regimes.

It simply chooses not to.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: IOC backs China instead of condemning treatment of Peng Shuai, Uyghurs