By Amy Tennery
NEW YORK (Reuters) -The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has acted irresponsibly in regard to missing Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, the Sport & Rights Alliance said on Wednesday.
The three-times Olympian and former doubles world number one has been the subject of international concern after she posted a message on social media last month alleging that China’s former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.
IOC President Thomas Bach said Peng was safe and well after a 30-minute phone call with her on Nov. 21, after Western governments and the global tennis community expressed concern for her wellbeing. The 35-year-old had not been seen for nearly three weeks since making her allegations.
“The behavior of the IOC in relation to Peng Shuai’s sexual assault allegations and disappearance has been irresponsible and shows just how hollow its understanding of human rights really is,” Andrea Florence, acting director of the Sport & Rights Alliance, said in a statement.
“The IOC’s eagerness to ignore the voice of an Olympian who may be in danger and to support claims of state-sponsored media in China shows the urgent and critical need for an IOC human rights strategy.”
The Sport & Rights Alliance, comprised of non-governmental organisations and trade unions, aims to promote human rights in sport.
It said the IOC must put athletes’ needs first with the 2022 Beijing Winter Games due to start in just over two months, and called upon it to use its influence to push China to investigate Peng’s claims in an “independent and transparent” manner.
“The main purpose of the call was to enquire about the well-being and safety of Peng Shuai. In the 30-minute conversation, she was very clear in confirming that she is safe and well,” the IOC said in a statement.
“Safeguarding the well-being of athletes is paramount to the IOC and the Olympic Movement. We have agreed to stay in touch, and she agreed to meet in Beijing in January.”
The IOC added that Peng has “asked that her privacy be respected in all aspects”.
The Human Rights Watch said last week that the IOC was more interested in keeping the Games on track than it was about athletes’ welfare.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound responded on Tuesday, telling Reuters the criticism was “complete nonsense”.
“What seemed to change after that (call) was all of the wannabes that were unable to get in contact with her sort of said ‘well the IOC botched it’ and ‘this was all organised by the Chinese’ and so on,” Pound said.
The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to run from Feb. 4-20.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York, editing by Ed Osmond)