IOC President Thomas Bach can’t escape repeated questions about Peng Shuai and issues raised by two video calls the IOC has had with her.
The calls were aimed at conveying a message that Peng was safe despite being absent from public view after the three-time Olympic tennis player accused a top Chinese politician of sexual assault almost six weeks ago.
The questions keep coming, even overshadowing a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics called by the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and Lithuania.
Bach has acknowledged that Peng’s situation is “fragile.” He is in the midst of three days of executive board meetings in Switzerland focused on the opening of the Games in Beijing on February 4. But many of the questions at the daily press briefings are about Peng.
“You have to respect this human being,” Bach said Wednesday. “And in such a fragile situation (that) Peng Shuai is in, you have to make all the efforts to build trust. To engage in a human relationship. And this, as you can appreciate, is not easy in a video call.”
Bach said the IOC initiated both calls with Chinese sports officials. He said the IOC was open to more calls and did not rule out an “independent” party being involved. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was suggested to Bach.
Bach said Peng’s wishes had to be respected, and he said she has asked for privacy.
No transcript of the calls was provided by the IOC, and Bach has never mentioned her sexual assault allegations against former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli.
“Why don’t you respect Peng Shuai in this and let her decide where her priorities are,” Bach said. He said that other parties were involved in the first two calls including what he termed a “native Chinese on the call.”
He was thought to be referring to IOC member from China, Li Lingwei,
“In the running of the calls we all were having the same impression that we could not feel her being under pressure,” Bach said. “For the rest, we can only report what she reported in the call.”
“Many people are saying there are suspicions here and there,” Bach added. “It’s very easy to have suspicions. Suspicions you can have always and about everything.”
Teng Biao, a China-born human rights lawyer living in the United States, said it’s clear that Peng is not free to speak.
“Of course, Peng Shuai is not safe,” Teng said in a recent interview on CNN. “What we know (through videos) is she’s still alive, she’s still in China. But she is definitely not safe, not well, and she’s totally controlled by the Chinese authorities and nobody knows where she is being detained. And so the athletes, if they go to China – nobody can guarantee their safety.”