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Long-serving International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound has been savaged by viewers over an interview with CNN about the plight of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.
Peng - whose disappearance after making sexual assault allegations against a powerful Chinese politician has created headlines around the world - spoke with International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach in a video call this week to assure him that she's OK.
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The 30-minute call came after Peng accused Zhang Gaoli, a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, of sexually assaulting her.
On November 2, Peng posted on Chinese social media that former vice-premier Zhang had coerced her into sex and they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
She was not seen or heard of in public for weeks in the aftermath of the allegations, which were since removed from the social media platform.
Sunday's call with IOC president Bach, athletes commission chair Emma Terho and IOC member Li Lingwei, a former vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association, was Peng’s first direct contact with sports officials outside China since she disappeared from public view on November 2.
While the video provided proof that Peng is alive, it did little to alleviate concerns from the WTA and human rights groups that she is being controlled by China.
Yaqiu Wang, a senior researcher on China at Human Rights Watch, said the video appeared "highly orchestrated" and "staged" and tweeted that the IOC was "actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery".
Wang said it followed a pattern of China silencing high-profile dissenters and “erasing inconvenient truths,” then forcing the oppressed to appear on video to recant allegations, admit to crimes or tell the public that they are safe and well.
"Given the context,” Wang said of Sunday’s IOC call, “it's highly unlikely this is done out of Peng Shuai's free will."
Pound - who is one of the IOC's most senior officials - appeared in an interview on CNN to say he was "puzzled" by the global reaction to the IOC video.
Senior IOC member Dick Pound says he’s “really puzzled” by criticism of the IOC for its intervention in the case of Peng Shuai. “They found her in good health & good spirits” during a call between Peng and IOC head Thomas Bach, says Pound – yet the IOC hasn’t released the video. pic.twitter.com/HcBE0O5wTq
— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) November 25, 2021
“I must say I’m really puzzled by that assessment of it,” Pound told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in response to the criticism.
“Basically, lots of people around the world were looking to see what happened to Peng Shuai and nobody was able to establish contact.
“Only the IOC was able to do so, and 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.
“They found her in good health and in good spirits and they saw no evidence of confinement or anything like that.”
CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour then pressed Pound on why the IOC hasn't released the video to the public and questioned whether Peng may have been censored off camera by Chinese officials.
After admitting that he hadn't seen the video himself, Pound came under fire from viewers for mistakenly referring to the WTA as the ATP when having a crack at the women's governing body for not being able to establish contact with Peng when the IOC was able to.
Tennis writer Reem Abulleil said on Twitter “this was infuriating to watch”, with fellow tennis writer 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.”
Tennis legend Pam Shriver was also among those to slam the IOC heavyweight.
“Mr. Pound even calls WTA ATP by mistake. How can this voice be a lead voice for IOC on this serious situation?”
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. https://t.co/VuENcK0F2a
— Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) November 25, 2021
@CNN ok, so a guy from the IOC named Dick Pound says he is puzzled by the public questioning the IOC about the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she accused a Chinese Olympic official of inappropriate sexual contact? That's twisted irony. 🤔https://t.co/IPbqnSCc72
— Mr Spock (@Star_Fleet_HQ) November 26, 2021
Great interview @amanpour and shame on IOC’s Dick Pound for his complete lack of interest in Peng Shuai’s well being.
— Elisa Oli 🇨🇦 🇬🇧 (@Lilieoj) November 25, 2021
Disappointing to see a high profile Canadian Dick Pound acting like this. This is shameful! The Chinese regime need to allow Peng Shuai to talk to WTA. Even then she is under Chinese government control. IOC only care about the Olympics they don't want controversy.
— OrvilleLloydDouglas🇨🇦🏳️🌈 (@OrvilleLloyd) November 25, 2021
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