Human Rights Watch asks IOC to ensure badminton player Peng Shuai’s name in programme book

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Corporate sponsorship may be in jeopardy unless China agrees to allow provision of athletes’ names to be printed in athletes’ programme books, says advocacy group

China has been accused of human rights violations in its handling of the case of China’s badminton doubles player Peng Shuai.

Citing an Olympic charter provision that protects the right to free expression, Human Rights Watch has called on the International Olympic Committee to guarantee Peng’s name is printed in the athletes’ programme book when she competes at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

“International sport has an obligation to publicly recognise what is happening in China: exposing widespread government repression,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

“If the Olympic movement does not take this charge seriously, then the IOC may itself become vulnerable to Chinese retaliation by cancelling corporate sponsorships or other forms of retaliation.”

Peng is one of five Chinese athletes who were jailed this year for offences such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, similar to the political gesture of “barefoot running” made by Chinese athletes in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Beijing Olympic handout photo showing China’s Liu Xiang during the men’s 110m hurdles. Photograph: AP

The Chinese government in June announced that five of the athletes would serve six-month suspended sentences. However, Peng and compatriot Xue Song have both been sentenced to two years in prison.

The IOC has said it will not make any comments on the issue.

“We can assure you that the future trials in China of athletes that are eligible to compete in the Rio Games will be transparent and fair. In order to put an end to misunderstandings about the sport ruling system in China, the IOC, Chinese officials and athletes have agreed to work together to improve transparency and fairness,” the IOC said in a statement.

“As previously indicated, we will not comment on individual cases.”

Hong Kong-based rights lawyer John Kamm, who campaigns for athletes’ rights in China, believes the campaign targeting Peng is part of China’s efforts to stifle public opposition to its growing international role.

“This is a way of squeezing [athletes] so they can say nothing in public,” he said.

In 2012, under the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the IOC refused to announce Peng’s Olympic-qualified name when she competed at London.

In 2013, when she won bronze at the World Championships in China, the IOC took a similar approach.

“I’ve never seen it done to a Chinese athlete before,” Kamm said. “It was the first one that I had heard of this style of human rights violations.”

Calls to the IOC for a statement on the Peng incident have not been answered.

Human Rights Watch also demanded that the IOC “condemn the ongoing human rights violations against Peng Shuai and other athletes and urge the Chinese government to release the three other athletes whose cases are currently on appeal”.

“The IOC should also take steps to ensure that individual rights guaranteed by the Olympic charter are observed by athletes in all forms of competition,” the group added.

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