German athletes’ group sends Peng Shuai demand to China ahead of Winter Olympics

Athletes Deutschland, Germany’s independent elite athletes body, has called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to provide evidence that Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is safe.

Peng's whereabouts became a matter of international concern following a nearly three-week public absence after she accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a social media message posted on Weibo in early November.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng's allegation.

China condemned the ‘politicisation of sports’ on Thursday after the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) suspended their tournaments in the country following Peng’s accusations. The WTA are unconvinced by Peng’s public appearances and want assurances of her wellbeing, as well as an investigation into her accusations. The topic has been blocked on China’s censored internet.

It also cited safety concerns of other players for the pulling of tournaments.

After the WTA's decision, the IOC said it had held a second video call with Peng, after having first talked to her on November 21.

Athleten Deutschland said that the IOC's statements do not suggest Peng is actually safe, whether she can make free decisions and “whether she can express herself free of coercion and censorship.” The body also praised the WTA for standing for Peng, insisting the IOC must do the same – even if there are economic damages.

It also called for an independent investigation into the matter.

The damning stance by the WTA is a blow for China as Beijing is readying itself to host the Winter Olympics in February, and global rights groups are calling for a boycott against the country’s human rights record.

Athleten Deutschland also called upon the IOC to make the protection of athletes its first priority and to ensure the safety of athletes at the Beijing Games.

They suggested the IOC should implement a rights strategy, with China giving assurances on the issue at the Winter Games in February.

The IOC insisted they had nothing to add to last week’s statement, released on Thursday.

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“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her,” the IOC said in the statement.

“We have offered her wide-ranging support, will stay in regular touch with her, and have already agreed on a personal meeting with her in January.

“There are different ways to achieve her well-being and safety. We have taken a very human and person-centred approach to her situation. Since she is a three-time Olympian, the IOC is addressing these concerns directly with Chinese sports organisations.

"We are using ‘quiet diplomacy’ which, given the circumstances and based on the experience of governments and other organisations, is indicated to be the most promising way to proceed effectively in such humanitarian matters.

“The IOC’s efforts led to a half-hour video conference with Peng Shuai on 21 November, during which she explained her situation and appeared to be safe and well, given the difficult situation she is in.

"This was reconfirmed in yesterday’s call. Our human and person-centred approach means that we continue to be concerned about her personal situation and will continue to support her.”

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