China's staggering Olympics warning over Peng Shuai saga

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Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is seen here returning a shot during a match.
The plight of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has become one of global concern. Pic: Getty

International Olympic Committee (IOC) heavyweight Dick Pound says stripping China of the right to host the Winter Games in 2022 can't be ruled out, as the world demands answers over the plight of tennis star, Peng Shuai.

Former doubles World No.1 Peng has not been seen or heard from publicly since saying on Chinese social media on November 2 she had been coerced into sex and later had an on-off consensual relationship with a former top government official.

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Scepticism also surrounds the authenticity of a letter - purportedly from the Chinese player - that appeared on state media insisting she was safe and denying the sexual assault allegations that had been made by her previously.

With concern over the safety and whereabouts of Peng growing into a global cause, the IOC could be pushed into taking a hard line with the 2022 Beijing Olympic hosts, Pound claims.

Although the outrage is unlikely to stop the Beijing Winter Games going ahead in February, the IOC senior member said the global body would not completely rule it out.

"If that's not resolved in a sensible way very soon it may spin out of control," Pound, the IOC's longest serving member, told Reuters. 

"It may (force IOC into taking a harder line).

"Whether that escalates to a cessation of the Olympic Games I doubt it. But you never know."

Pictured here, former President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Dick Pound speaking at a conference.
IOC heavyweight Dick Pound says stripping Beijing of the Winter Olympics in 2022 is not entirely out of the question as a respone to the Peng Shuai controversy. Pic: Getty

The Chinese government has not commented on Peng's allegation. The 35-year-old tennis player's social media post was quickly deleted and the topic has been blocked from discussion on China's heavily censored internet.

The governing body of women's tennis (WTA) has called for an investigation and has threatened to pull tournaments worth tens of millions of dollars out of China.

Even though Peng is a three-time Olympian, the IOC has given no indication it is willing to take a similar stand and risk billions of dollars in television rights and sponsorships.

"I don't know whether we are there yet but I'm sure they (IOC executive committee) are following this to see where it is going," said Pound, a Canadian lawyer and former-Olympian.

"Action against one of its own citizens for airing a complaint about one of their higher ups - that's harder for them (China) to handle than the usual 'this is a domestic matter now get lost'."

The IOC has previously declined to comment on Peng's matter, saying it believed "quiet diplomacy" offered the best opportunity for a solution.

Pound conceded China does not respond well to threats and negotiating with sport and government officials requires nuance.

Tennis world demands Peng Shuai answers 

"That would be a little harder line than the IOC would normally be taking," said Pound, when asked if the IOC might demand a meeting with Peng.

"Where we have generated some change of attitude in the past we've said, 'listen this is all out there in the public (so) how do we respond?' We can't ignore it.

"That in the past has produced some movement."

Some of the world's top tennis players, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Andy Murray have expressed their concern over Peng, with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai trending across the internet.

Men's World No.1 Novak Djokovic said the sport must stand together over the apparent disappearance of the tennis star and backed the WTA's threats to cancel events in China if they can't provide proof of her safety.

"The whole community, tennis community, needs to back her up and her family, make sure that she's safe and sound because if you would have tournaments on the Chinese soil without resolving this situation, it would be a little bit strange," Djokovic said.

"I do understand why the WTA has taken a stance like that.

"I hope that for the sake of tennis, Chinese tennis, Peng Shuai, to find her very soon. It's terrible. I mean, this could happen to anybody in any part of the world.

"We just have to unite and stand together and show that there is no ignorance to this, that it's not like it's just I guess something that concerns China."

with AAP

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