IOC defends ‘discreet’ approach to Peng Shuai situation, insisting they are in direct contact with player

Peng Shuai in action
Peng Shuai

The International Olympic Committee has rejected criticism of how it has handled contact with Peng Shuai.

Concerns have been raised over the Chinese star’s safety and well-being after she alleged in November she had been sexually assaulted by a senior official in the country’s government.

The IOC, which is taking the Winter Olympics to Beijing in February, said it would employ “quiet diplomacy” in the matter and on November 21 announced its president, Thomas Bach, had held a 30-minute video call with Peng.

The footage of the call was not released and organisations, including the WTA, remain deeply concerned for her safety. That organisation has suspended the hosting of events in China over its concerns for Peng.

The IOC announced it had held a further video call with Peng on December 2 and had agreed a personal meeting in January.

The head of the IOC’s co-ordination commission for the Beijing Games, Juan Antonio Samaranch, defended the approach taken to date and said: “Don’t write off silent diplomacy, it’s a very powerful tool.

“We plan to stick to that for issues of that calibre, that difficulty and that importance.”

Samaranch appeared to criticise what he saw as a politicisation of Peng’s situation.

“Everybody should be concentrating on the well-being of Peng Shuai and not trying to use this for another purpose,” he said.

Asked about how the IOC had initiated contact, Samaranch said: “We are talking regularly with the sports organisations in China at large. We are in direct contact (with Peng) – both the president and the Athletes Commission.

“We have to be discreet and respect her desire for discretion in this difficult moment of her life. We believe we are dealing with a person and the most important thing is to help a person solve a problem that she might have in the best possible way.

“Our idea is to centre and concentrate ourselves on the well-being of the athlete and we are doing that wholeheartedly.”

In announcing the suspension of WTA events in China, its chief executive Steve Simon said last week: “If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback.

“I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players.

“Given the current state of affairs, I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022.”