A senior IOC official has been slammed online as critics couldn’t believe his logic behind a high-profile chat with tennis star Peng Shuai.
Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound has come under fire as tennis fans slammed his TV interview on the subject of Chinese star Peng Shuai.
There was worldwide concern for Peng when she disappeared for two weeks after accusing a top Communist Party politician of sexual assault — and fears remain for her wellbeing even after recent public appearances.
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Chinese state media has attempted to prove Peng’s safety by releasing photos and videos of her, but many have accused those interactions of being staged.
The IOC released a picture and statement after president Thomas Bach shared a video call with Peng, but the organisation was slammed for pandering to Chinese propaganda.
Peng’s call with Bach did not allay the concerns of the WTA and human rights groups accused him of “complicity” with Chinese authorities — noting no mention was made of Peng’s sexual assault allegations.
“This is just disturbing on another level. The IOC is now actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery,” Yaqiu Wang, a China specialist at Human Rights Watch, tweeted.
Alkan Akad, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said the IOC was “entering dangerous waters”.
“They should be extremely careful not to participate in any whitewash of a possible violation of human rights.
“The call between the IOC and Peng Shuai is hardly convincing that Peng has full and genuine freedom of expression, liberty, security and movement.”
Long-serving IOC official Pound was interviewed on CNN by chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour, saying he was “really puzzled” by criticism of his organisation.
The WTA still has not been able to make direct contact with Peng, despite repeated efforts over the past few weeks, and is worried the 35-year-old is being coerced and possibly censored. But Pound said he was not concerned — despite admitting he had not seen any footage of Bach’s call with the former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion.
Pound was slammed for, among other things, mistakenly referring to the WTA as the ATP, and taking a dig at the governing body for women’s tennis not being able to make contact with Peng.
Tennis writer Reem Abulleil said on Twitter “this was infuriating to watch” while, referring to Pound’s crack at the WTA, fellow journalist Diego Barbiani added: “I can’t believe he says this on camera. I’m losing my mind over this video, but this specific part is really tough to accept.
“This is utterly embarrassing and worrying at the same time. He didn’t see the video. He doesn’t even know what he is talking about judging by his struggle to remember what sport Peng Shuai plays (‘She will be in good shape up to… including Beijing’). He confuses WTA with ATP.”
The official account for The Tennis Podcast tweeted: “Seriously, what is he talking about. At best he’s either spectacularly naive or desperate to preserve relationships at all costs.”
Tennis great Pam Shriver wrote: “Mr. Pound even calls WTA ATP by mistake. How can this voice be a lead voice for IOC on this serious situation?”
Canadian reporter Bruce Arthur said: “This is utterly shameful. Dick Pound isn’t a rube. The IOC isn’t run by rubes. Peng didn’t call the WTA, and it doesn’t sound like other players have heard from her. Pound used to be a genuinely admirable part of the Olympic movement, as it goes. Something happened.”
Toronto-based radio host Greg Brady also responded to the clip of the interview, writing: “Our Great Canadian Embarrassment, Dick Pound, never ceases to seek rock-bottom.”
Amanpour: What do you make of all the criticism that’s come down on the IOC and the IOC itself for what they consider an unsatisfactory intervention in this case with that video call?
Pound: I’m really puzzled by that assessment of it. Lots of people around the world were looking to see what happened with Peng Shuai and nobody was able to establish contact — only the IOC was able to do so. There was a conversation that was held by video with Thomas Bach, who’s an older Olympian, and two younger, female IOC members. Nobody’s released the video because I guess that aspect of it was private but they found her in good health and in good spirits and saw no evidence of confinement or anything like that. She wanted to spend some time with family and friends and Thomas Bach said, “I’ll be in Beijing in a month or two, let’s get together and have lunch or something and continue our conversation”. If you’re really concerned about Peng, you’ve got some good news.
Amanpour: I guess the question is beyond proof of life video, which this clearly seemed to be, what else was achieved because does, for instance, Mr Bach know that out of camera range there weren’t officials sitting with her and censoring her? Why does the IOC not release its part of the video call? I mean you know there are still so many questions just beyond seeing her talking and the WTA is really not satisfied at all, nor are other human rights organisations. So I’m just wondering why you put yourself in this position of not just putting out even more that you have at your disposal.
Pound: Well I think the idea was to be assured, insofar as one can … that she was healthy, not being confined and she’s happy enough to get together with the same folks who were on the call, later in Beijing. If nothing else you can have quite a lot of confidence that she’ll be in good shape up to and including Beijing, and that’s what we were concerned about. The ATP may have its own views but I don’t think they’ve been paying much attention to what’s happened in basketball and football in threatening China with economic sanctions. It’s not going to work. Part of the proof of the pudding is they were not able to get in touch with her and that’s her sport, and maybe she didn’t like the attitude they were showing. Whether that was discussed on the video or not, I don’t know, it may be one of the ground rules was the full content would not be released because there may have been some private matters discussed in the course of the 30-minute conversation. But there’s been criticism saying, “You’ve had this conversation and you haven’t resolved the harassment charges” — of course not, that takes a lot more time and evidence to come up with some resolution.
Amanpour: I guess what people, and what I would like to know is, very quickly — yes or no — have you actually seen the tape of this call?
Pound: I have not.
Amanpour: Do you know what’s in it? have you asked Thomas Bach what exactly they talked about, given you’ve been doing a lot of press about it?
Pound: No I haven’t, I’m simply relying on the combined judgment of the three IOC members who were on the call.