Chinese and international Olympics officials attempted to douse the country’s biggest #MeToo controversy on Monday, as details of two carefully controlled encounters with tennis star Peng Shuai were released on the fourth day of the Beijing Winter Games.
Peng, a three-time Olympian, alleged in a social media post in November that she had at least one non-consensual sexual encounter and an on-off relationship with Zhang Gaoli, a 75-year-old former Chinese vice-premier who oversaw preparations for the Games. The post was deleted shortly after publication.
Peng, 36, told the French sports newspaper L’Equipe that she had “never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way” in an interview published on Monday. L’Equipe said many of its questions were vetted and Peng spoke in the presence of a representative from China’s Olympic Committee.
Peng also said that she, not censors, had deleted the social media post. “There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world following this post. . . And I don’t want any further media hype around it, ”she said.
Separately, the International Olympic Committee said Thomas Bach, the organization’s president, met Peng for dinner on Saturday night. The IOC, which had implied on Sunday that the meeting had not yet been held, did not mention the controversy regarding Peng’s allegations.
Bach held a video call with Peng shortly after she made the accusations and largely disappeared from public view. The IOC said Peng had agreed to meet Bach for dinner during the Games.
Mark Adams, an IOC spokesperson, defended the decision to release a statement acknowledging the dinner two days after the event rather than when asked about it on Sunday. The IOC “released the statement this morning because we had the statement ready, it’s as simple as that,” he said, adding that it was “not a judgment for the IOC to make” as to whether Peng had been assaulted.
Adams said the IOC did not provide corroborating evidence of the dinner because having a photographer present was “not really conducive” to getting the Chinese tennis player to meet.
The IOC is “trying our best in the circumstances just to see” her, he said. ‘We started with,’ Where is Peng Shuai? ‘ We found her. ‘How is she?’ We started talking to her. Now we’ve actually met her in person. . . As a sporting organization, I’d say we’re actually doing quite a good job of navigating these issues. “
Bach was accompanied by another member of the IOC but the organization did not say if Peng was joined by Chinese officials. “All three agreed that any further communication about the meeting would be left to [Peng’s] discretion, ”the IOC said.
Yang Shu’an, vice president of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, denied involvement. “We only focus on the Games operation,” he told reporters.
Peng’s post about Zhang appeared on her verified Weibo account and created another international controversy for the Chinese government and the IOC ahead of the Games.
A number of western countries, including the US, UK, Australia and Canada, have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Olympics over Beijing’s extralegal detention of more than 1mn Muslim Uyghurs in China’s north-western Xinjiang region.
Chinese officials have insisted the camps are part of a vocational education system needed to combat religious extremism in Xinjiang.
In an apparent show of defiance towards international condemnation of what human rights and other activists have dubbed a “genocide Games”, Chinese Olympic officials drafted an unheralded, ethnic Uyghur member of their female cross-country ski team to help light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremony last week.
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