Issue 7, Volume 112
By Taee Chi
The worlds of tennis and politics aligned recently when Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis star, went missing following her accusations of sexual assault against a former Chinese politician. Peng, a three-time Olympian, 2010 Asian Games gold medalist, and former number one doubles player in the world, has not been seen by the public since November 2, when she posted on social media alleging former People’s Republic of China vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual coercion. The Weibo post, which was quickly taken down by Chinese censors, along with Peng’s subsequent disappearance, has raised concerns regarding the tennis player’s safety.
The public’s concerns about Peng’s whereabouts have been compounded by the absence of photos and videos to prove her well-being. “What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,” said Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the United Nations Human Rights office.
The only proof that the public has received thus far came in the form of an e-mail, allegedly written by Peng and sent to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA). The message read, “Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai […] I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve been resting at home and everything is fine.” Instead of reassurance, the message further amplified the public’s uneasiness, as some speculated that Peng had been forced into writing the note. This possibility isn’t out of the question, given the Chinese government’s long history of using force to suppress dissenters and silence those speaking out against the country.
As a result of the situation, the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai has circulated on Twitter, with human rights activists, politicians, fans, and athletes banding together in the global search for the tennis star. Another hashtag, #FreePengShuai, has also been going around, suggesting the possibility of the former Olympian’s confinement.
The situation concerning Peng Shuai reflects a broader issue of China’s human rights abuses. Calls for a boycott against the forthcoming 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which were already growing in recent months, are now further strengthened by the international concern for Peng. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has taken a rather meek and compliant approach to the ordeal: “Quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution,” they asserted in a press release.
It is clear that the IOC is unwilling to challenge China due to the possible retributions of such actions on the looming Beijing Games, which have largely been funded by the Chinese government. They choose to ignore the fact that China’s human rights violations, including censorship, forced labor, and religious oppression, go against the core values of the IOC and the Olympics. It seems that the IOC lacks the courage to stand up for a member of their Olympian family and call out the dictatorial host for its blatant disregard for human rights.
On the contrary, the WTA has put up an admirable effort in standing up for Peng. “Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak freely, without coercion or intimidation from any source. Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship,” chief executive of the WTA Steve Simon said. “The voices of women need to be heard and respected, not censored nor dictated to.”
Simon also expressed the WTA’s complete willingness to move away from operations within China despite the organization’s recent efforts to build its Chinese market. The WTA’s willingness to put morals and principles over profit should serve as an example to professional athletic organizations around the world. It’s time for the Olympic Committee to get their act together and stand up for one of their own.