Lausanne, Switzerland—IOC president Thomas Bach insisted on Wednesday that he was staying politically neutral in the face of diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics and concerns over tennis player Peng Shuai.
Addressing a virtual press conference at the end of the second day of the IOC Executive Board meeting, Bach talked about the “success” of the delayed Tokyo Games in July and August, but then faced questions centred on China, which hosts the Winter Games in February.
Bach spoke on a day when Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada followed the United States and announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Games because of concerns over China’s human rights record.
He insisted the important point was “the participation of the athletes in the Olympic Games”.
“We welcome the support for their Olympic team all these governments have been emphasising this is giving the athletes certainty and this is what the IOC is about.”
“The presence of government officials is a purely political decision by each government,” he said.
“You will hear the same comment from us for every political decision from any government. We have been concerned with the athletes. We welcome that they can participate that they are supported by their national governments. The rest is politics and our political neutrality applies.”
“If we were to start to take political sides, we would never get the 205 or 206 national committees to Olympic Games this would be the politicisation of the Olympic Games and this would be the end of the Olympic Games.”
Bach said the IOC would ensure human rights were observed at the Games.
“Our responsibility is to ensure that everything related to the Olympics includes respect for the human rights of all the participants and freedom of press,” he said.
The IOC has been following a strategy of “quiet diplomacy” in the case of Chinese tennis player Peng who disappeared for three weeks after she made sexual assault accusations on social media against a former top Communist Party politician. Despite two IOC video calls, there are continuing doubts about whether she is at liberty.
Earlier on Wednesday, the New York Times said Bach’s participation in the first video call and the IOC’s refusal to mention the possible sexual assault, had “lent legitimacy” to Chinese treatment of the player.
“We could not feel her being under pressure,” Bach told the press conference. “It’s very easy to have suspicions. Suspicions you can have always and about everything.
“We have achieved so far with these talks what we could reasonably be expected to achieve.”
“It’s about an individual, about an athlete and you have to take care of this human being and you have to respect this human being and in such a fragile situation that Peng Shuai is in you have to make all the efforts to build trust.
“Our approach is to get the human feeling with her and to assure her that we are caring about her this is what she very much appreciated in both calls.”