Chinese Official Who Tennis Star Peng Shuai Accused of Rape Lead China’s Olympic Committee

Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli (R), also a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bur
Xinhua News Agency/China

The saga of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who disappeared after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her prior to a consensual affair and may still be under duress from the Communist regime, took another turn on Wednesday with revelations that Zhang had a leadership role in setting up the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

This discovery was particularly significant because the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been accused of whitewashing China’s oppression by claiming to hold a curiously staged video conference call with Peng over the weekend. 

The IOC declared itself satisfied that she is “safe and well, living at home in Beijing,” a statement touted by Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials as proof that it had done nothing improper to Peng. 

Human rights organizations, and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), are skeptical a photo purporting to show a conference call proved anything about Peng’s well-being or freedom to speak. Activists have added Peng’s case to the growing list of reasons for canceling the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Zhang Gaoli’s role as leader of the CCP’s 2022 Winter Olympics Leading Group was not kept secret, but it was not widely commented upon until this week, when activists and media organizations looking for more information about the low-key 75-year-old Communist leader came across photos of him meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach as early as 2016. 

Bach is the IOC official who held the video call with Peng and pronounced her safe and well on Sunday. Chinese state media reports from 2016 confirm Bach and Zhang met in Beijing.

“I believe the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games will be a huge success,” Bach said after meeting with Zhang.

The Japan Times on Tuesday noted Zhang had a “clean record” and “austere air” during his long, steady rise through the CCP’s ranks. “Results count more than words” was his motto, according to one American banker who met him in the 2000s.

Analyst Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong described Zhang as “colorless” and undistinguished. He advanced to the pinnacle of power thanks to patronage from some influential Communists, most notably including former “President” Jiang Zemin, who is still alive and quite influential at age 95. Jiang is best known in the West for presiding over the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Near the end of his five-year stint as Vice Premier in 2018, Zhang became head of China’s working group to “guide, support, and supervise” the 2022 Olympic bid, according to IOC documents cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Wednesday.

“Chinese government announcements also identified Mr. Zhang as head of the steering group, saying he gave instructions on everything from stadium construction to transportation before he handed the job to his successor in 2018,” the WSJ added.

The UK Guardian noted on Monday that boycotting the Winter Olympics over issues like Peng Shuai and the Uyghur concentration camps is an “agonizing” decision for many governments due to the “contemporary economic power of China.”

“The threats and economic boycotts that Australia, Canada and more recently Lithuania have suffered at the hands of the Chinese for challenging Beijing’s authority in one way or another are not experiences other countries will want to copy lightly,” the Guardian proposed.

The Guardian thought Peng’s fate could become the final straw for canceling the Beijing Olympics because the athletes themselves feel concern and solidarity for her and could use their popularity and social media followings to demand a confrontation with China that politicians and corporate sponsors would rather avoid.


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