Olympics officials are playing China’s game — should they face sanctions?

Associated Press/Andy Brownbill

The International Olympic Committee is now abetting human rights abuses in China, which will host the 2022 Winter Olympics next February. Whereas previously the IOC was happy to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of Olympic host countries, it is now a willing partner in sweeping them under the rug — and thus ensuring they can continue unabated. There must be consequences.

Since Chinese state media launched a Twitter campaign last month to respond to growing international concerns about the wellbeing of Peng Shuai — the Chinese tennis star who disappeared after apparently accusing a former vice premier of sexual assault — the IOC has stepped wrong at every turn.

On Nov. 17, Chinese media outlet CGTN tweeted a screenshot of an email Peng purportedly sent to Steve Simon, chairman of the World Tennis Association. “I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe,” the author wrote. “I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.” While Simon rightly concluded that the message only raised greater concerns about Peng, the IOC was more than happy to take the screenshot — complete with word processor cursor — at face value. As a spokesman put it, “We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe.”

With this initial statement, the IOC stuck a toe in the human rights abusers’ cesspool. Apparently, the water felt fine, because days later IOC President Thomas Bach dived right in.

On Nov. 21, Bach held a video call with Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian. Emma Terho, chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, and Li Lingwei, a Chinese representative on the IOC, were also on the call. Li is a member of the Chinese People’s Congress and a former member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — there should be little doubt about whom she represents.

According to the IOC statement, Peng “explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time.” Terho described her relief at seeing that “Peng Shuai was doing fine…She appeared to be relaxed.” The four agreed to meet for dinner in Beijing in January.

Bach and his pals would like us to believe that the matter is now settled — that Peng is safe, well, and free. But the IOC made a tactical error in tipping its hand two days earlier when in an emailed statement it asserted that “quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature.” In other words, the video call with Peng did not come about because the IOC reached out to Peng and she agreed to speak. Rather, the IOC engaged with Chinese authorities, who agreed to deliver Peng for a public relations stunt. 

The IOC has put on a shameful display in recent months as it continued to defend holding the next winter Olympics in Beijing amidst an ongoing genocide in China. But its activities of recent weeks are beyond the pale. Bach enthusiastically joined the Chinese Communist Party in using Peng as a prop to advance his own ends — the success of the Beijing Olympics. He is complicit in depriving Peng of her freedom and of her voice. To say that the IOC has become a tool of the Party is too generous — it is now a junior partner in the commission of an ongoing rights violation and thus shares responsibility for it. 

The State Department should consider what authorities it may have to sanction Bach and other individuals at the IOC for their complicity in human rights abuses. Their dollar-denominated assets should be frozen and they should be denied entry to the United States. If such authorities do not exist, Congress should move quickly to establish them. 

Sanctioning IOC individuals might seem like a drastic step. But it may be the only step that would encourage them to finally take human rights concerns seriously. Bach and his partners-in-crime have freely made a decision to assist the Chinese Communist Party in viciously suppressing perceived challenges to its authority. It is time for these unworthy bearers of the Olympic flag to pay the price. 

Michael Mazza is a nonresident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the Global Taiwan Institute, and the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Tags China Global Television Network International Olympic Committee Olympic Games Peng Shuai Presidents of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach Winter Olympics

More Civil Rights News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video