A bipartisan pair of US lawmakers introduced a resolution on Friday accusing the International Olympic Committee of helping Chinese authorities whitewash tennis superstar Peng Shuai's sexual assault claims against a former senior Communist Party official in Beijing.
"Three-time Olympian Peng Shuai went missing after she said in a since-deleted post on Chinese social media site Weibo that she had been sexually assaulted and forced into a sexual relationship with Zhang Gaoli, who was the Chinese Communist Party's vice-premier from 2013 to 2018," says the resolution from Representative Jennifer Wexton, a Virginia Democrat, and Representative Michael Waltz, a Republican from Florida.
"The role of IOC leadership in collaborating with Chinese Communist Party officials to cover up Peng Shuai's allegations of sexual assault and disappearance call into question the organization's ability and willingness to hold abusers accountable and protect athletes participating in the 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Beijing," it said.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
The resolution is the latest sign that Peng's #MeToo charges have ballooned into a full-fledged crisis for the IOC just two months before Beijing is set to host the Winter Olympics.
Calls had already been growing for the US and other nations to proceed with some form of boycott against the upcoming Olympics, mainly in protest of Beijing's policies targeting Uygurs and other ethnic minority groups in the far-west Xinjiang region. But the Peng case has only intensified those efforts.
US President Joe Biden said last month that he was "considering" a diplomatic boycott, meaning no US government officials would attend the games.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that the US was not alone in weighing a response to Beijing's hosting of the Games.
"Many countries are looking at the Olympics, including the United States," he said. "We've been talking to lots of partners and allies about how they're thinking about it, and I'm sure that countries will be coming to decisions about how they're going to approach this in the near term."
The lawmakers' resolution also comes just two days after the Women's Tennis Association announced that it would pull all of its tournaments from China, effective immediately.
Peng's accusation came in early November, after which she went silent for days, leading many observers - including numerous star tennis players with enormous followings - to question whether she had been disappeared by the Chinese government for daring to accuse a top official of sexual assault.
The allegations on Peng's official Weibo account were the first in the #MeToo era to name a top Communist Party leader.
As the chorus grew demanding to know Peng's whereabouts and whether she was safe, the IOC announced that its president, Thomas Bach, had spoken in a video call with Peng on November 21, and tried to assure the world that she seemed OK.
The video of the call has not been made public, but IOC member Dick Pound told CNN this week that the "unanimous conclusion" of those who had taken part in the call was that Peng was "fine".
On Thursday, the IOC said it had held a second call with her. She "appeared to be safe and well" in the first call, the IOC said in a statement on Thursday. "This was reconfirmed in yesterday's call."
The bipartisan resolution says the IOC's conduct "undermines the efforts by the United States government, human rights organizations, the Women's Tennis Association and other international bodies and individuals to secure Peng Shuai's safety."
"The IOC has chosen to side with the oppressive PRC regime and further jeopardise Peng's freedom and safety," said Wexton, the Democrat from Virginia. "Peng Shuai must be allowed to speak and move freely, and her allegations deserve to be thoroughly investigated."
Said Waltz, the Florida Republican: "The IOC has demonstrated yet again it cares more about appeasing the Chinese Communist Party and the Olympics' corporate sponsors rather than the well-being of Olympic tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused a top CCP official of sexual assault."
The resolution said the IOC should make "an effort to regain lost public confidence", and called on the Communist Party to investigate and stop censoring Peng's claims and allow her to leave China if she wishes.
If it passes, the resolution would not have the binding force of law, but it would provide a sense of Congress's thinking on the issue. Lawmakers have already introduced separate legislation trying to force the Biden administration into a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Games.
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2021 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.