“What the I.O.C. established is that quiet and discreet diplomacy gets you better than clashing cymbals,” Pound said. “That’s not the way you deal with any country, certainly not with China.”
It is unclear how Bach managed to engineer a call with Peng when the WTA Tour and others had been unsuccessful, though the presence on the call of an I.O.C. member from China, Li Lingwei, offered a tantalizing clue.
“The I.O.C. has vaulted itself from silence about Beijing’s abysmal human rights record to active collaboration with Chinese authorities in undermining freedom of speech and disregarding alleged sexual assault,” said Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The I.O.C. appears to prize its relationship with a major human rights violator over the rights and safety of Olympic athletes.”
Teng Biao, a lawyer and prominent human rights campaigner who was detained in 2008 for criticizing China’s preparations for that year’s Summer Olympics, said it was illogical that Peng would have organized a call with Bach by herself. In a telephone interview from his home in New Jersey, where he now lives in exile, Teng suggested the authorities in Beijing had set up the call with Bach rather than risk one between Peng and a critic like the WTA Tour chief executive, Steve Simon, who has pressed China publicly to allow Peng to move and speak freely.
When it comes to the Olympics in Beijing, Teng said, “The I.O.C. and Bach are not neutral.”
For Bach, a pragmatist, there has been little room to maneuver once China secured hosting rights to the 2022 Winter Games six years ago amid a dearth of suitable candidate cities. The Olympics generate 91 percent of the organization’s income, so the I.O.C. has long avoided doing anything that might put at risk those billions of dollars in revenue.
“Thomas Bach is all about protecting the Olympics,” Adam Pengilly, a former I.O.C. member, said in explaining how Bach, formerly a gold-medal-winning fencer, has moved to secure the future of the Games since assuming the presidency in 2013.