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IOC call with Chinese tennis star Peng raises more questions

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A video call between Olympic officials and Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, whose nearly three-week disappearance from public view sparked an outcry, was meant to reassure the world that she was safe — but instead has raised more questions.

Concern grew in the last week for the former No. 1-ranked doubles player — who hadn’t been seen since accusing a senior Chinese official of sexual assault on Nov. 2. Tennis stars and fans alike demanded to know #WhereIsPengShuai, and the head of the Women’s Tennis Association threatened to pull lucrative events from China.

On Sunday, the International Olympic Committee said Peng spoke to officials, including IOC President Thomas Bach, in a 30-minute video call from Beijing. According to the organization’s statement, she reassured them that she was well and thanked them for their concern — while asking for privacy.

The IOC posted a photo that shows Bach facing a screen on which Peng appears but did not release video of the call. On the same day, China Open posted videos and photos of her appearance at a youth tennis tournament in Beijing that morning.

The photos and the IOC’s short statement, which offered few details and no follow-up on her allegations, seem unlikely to close the door on Peng’s case — and are already increasing criticism of the sports body’s decision to push ahead with the Beijing Winter Olympics, which open on Feb. 4.

Even after the statement was published Sunday, the WTA repeated what chairman and CEO Steve Simon has been saying for more than a week, calling for a full, fair and transparent investigation “without censorship.”

The IOC is already under pressure because of allegations that China has committed human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims, Tibetans, and other minorities. China denies the accusations. “We are firmly opposed to any words and deeds that politicize sports in violation of the Olympic spirit,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Monday, when asked about a possible boycott.

The Olympic body has responded to the criticism by saying its policy is “quiet diplomacy” and as recently as Saturday said it would “continue our open dialogue on all levels with the Olympic movement in China.”

The IOC may argue that its access to Peng shows that policy worked. But critics say the move makes the body an active partner in delivering Beijing’s message — while not providing Peng with an open forum to discuss her allegations.

Yaqiu Wang, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, tweeted that the IOC is now “actively playing a role in the Chinese government’s enforced disappearance, coercion and propaganda machinery.”

An email seeking comment on criticism of the IOC’s handling of its contact with Peng was sent to the Olympic body.

This is the second time this year that the IOC has been in the spotlight for pushing ahead with an Olympics: Many wanted the body to call off the Summer Games in Tokyo because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Critics note that IOC has a strong interest in holding the events because it generates 91% of its income from sponsors and selling broadcast rights at the Games.

Peng is just one of a number of Chinese businesspeople, activists and ordinary people who have disappeared in recent years after criticizing party figures or in crackdowns on corruption or pro-democracy and labor rights campaigns.

While the ruling Communist Party is quick to blot out any criticism, that this time it came from an athlete made it especially sensitive. State media celebrate athletes’ victories as proof the party is making China strong — and the party is vigilant about making sure they cannot use their prominence and public appeal to erode its image.

The tennis star accused a former member of the Communist Party’s ruling Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault in a social media post that was removed quickly.

She wrote in part: “I know that to you, vice minister Zhang Gaoli, a person of high status and power, you’ve said you’re not afraid. With your intelligence, you certainly will deny it or you can even use it against me, you can dismiss it without a care. Even if I’m destroying myself, like throwing an egg against a rock, or a moth flying into a flame, I will still speak out the truth about us.”

Concerns about the censoring of her post and her subsequent disappearance from public view grew into a furor, drawing comments from tennis greats like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, and Martina Navratilova.

All the while, news of her allegations was blacked out at home. CNN reported that its signal in China had been blocked around reporting on Peng.

A search for her name Monday on Weibo, one of China’s leading social media platforms, produced only a few posts, and none that refer to the sexual assault allegation or the questions about her whereabouts.

Still missing is Zhang. He left public life about three years ago after being one of seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee — the apex of political power in China.

The WTA is the first sports body to defiantly stand up to China’s financial clout — in what many see as a sharp contrast to the IOC, which says it is powerless to intervene in China’s internal policies.

“The statements make the IOC complicit in the Chinese authority’s malicious propaganda and lack of care for basic human rights and justice,” Global Athlete, a lobby group for athletes, said in a statement.

“The IOC showed a complete disregard for allegations of sexual violence and abuse against athletes,” the statement said. “By taking a nonchalant approach to Peng Shuai’s disappearance and by refusing to mention her serious allegations of sexual assault, IOC President Thomas Bach and the IOC Athletes’ Commission demonstrate an abhorrent indifference to sexual violence and the well-being of female athletes.”

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More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports. More AP Winter Olympics coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics.

Stephen Wade, The Associated Press

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Economy

Luxury goods tax on super-rich could hit electric vehicles: expert

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By Marie Woolf in Ottawa

A new tax on yachts, luxury cars and private aircraft designed to hit the super-rich could also cover vehicles meant to help the environment, a tax expert warns.

The luxury goods tax, which will come into force on Sept. 1, will cover cars and SUVs, as well as private planes and helicopters, worth more than $100,000.

The federal tax will also cover yachts and boats — including motorboats — worth more than $250,000.

But senior tax lawyer Héléna Gagné says the new tax could also hit some electric and hybrid vehicles, including Tesla and BMW models, which cost more than $100,000.

The federal government has been encouraging Canadians to invest in clean technology and zero-emission vehicles, which can carry a higher price tag than cars that run on fossil fuels.

Gagné said the thresholds for the tax could also affect people who would not be regarded as wealthy, but have saved up to buy a private plane for a hobby.

“It seems to be assumed that it is only the wealthiest who will be impacted by the luxury tax but it is not necessarily the case,” said Gagné, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. “It can also impact indirectly taxpayers who may not consider themselves as being among the wealthiest but who may decide to purchase an electric vehicle with a retail sales price that happens to be over the $100,000 threshold.”

Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the measures, originally proposed in the 2021 budget, are not designed to hit the middle class.

She said the threshold for the tax for boats was deliberately set at $250,000 so it would cover superyachts and not middle-class families buying boats.

Vaupshas said it was “only right and fair that the very wealthiest are asked to pay their fair share.”

“The government was re-elected on a platform that included a commitment to bring forward a luxury tax on yachts, private jets, and luxury cars and implementing this measure is a priority,” she said.

The tax was originally proposed in the 2021 budget. It will cover luxury cars, planes, and boats bought for personal use and leisure. Commercial vehicles, including small planes selling seats, and emergency vehicles are among the classes of vehicle exempt from the new tax.

The tax amounts to either 10 per cent of the taxable amount of the item or 20 per cent of the amount over the price threshold — whichever is less.

The NDP has been putting pressure on the federal government to do more to tax the super-rich. Measures to increase taxes on the wealthiest people in Canada, however, were not included in the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply pact.

NDP critic for tax fairness and inequality, Niki Ashton, said at a news conference last month that she wants the federal government to close loopholes she says are being used by the super-rich and corporations to avoid paying billions in taxes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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International

Ex-police officer gets 7-plus years in prison in Jan. 6 case

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By Michael Kunzelman in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — An off-duty Virginia police officer who stormed the U.S. Capitol with a fellow officer was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in prison, matching the longest prison sentence so far among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

Former Rocky Mount Police Sgt. Thomas Robertson didn’t speak in court before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced him to seven years and three months in prison. Cooper also sentenced Robertson to three years of supervised release after his prison term.

Federal prosecutors had recommended an eight-year prison sentence for Robertson. The sentence he got equals that of Guy Reffitt, a Texas man who attacked the Capitol while armed with a holstered handgun.

Robertson gets credit for the 13 months he has already been jailed.

In April, a jury convicted Robertson of attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Jurors found him guilty of all six counts in his indictment, including charges that he interfered with police officers at the Capitol and that he entered a restricted area with a dangerous weapon, a large wooden stick.

Robertson traveled to Washington on the morning of Jan. 6 with another off-duty Rocky Mount police officer, Jacob Fracker, and a third man, a neighbor who wasn’t charged in the case.

Fracker was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson before he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in March and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. Cooper is scheduled to sentence Fracker next Tuesday.

Prosecutors have asked Cooper to spare Fracker from a prison term and sentence him to six months of probation along with a period of home detention or “community confinement.” They said Fracker’s “fulsome” cooperation and trial testimony was crucial in securing convictions against Robertson.

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