IOC President Thomas Bach fielded questions on China and Peng Shuai ©IOC

Thomas Bach has denied suggestions the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has sided with China regarding Peng Shuai, claiming the organisation must remain politically neutral or the Olympic Games would "end".

The IOC has been criticised for its handling of the Peng situation after concerns were raised over the Chinese tennis player's well-being following allegations she made of sexual assault against a high-ranking Chinese politician.

It refused to mention the allegations or why there are fears about her welfare in any of its statements following two calls it held with Peng, and Bach again did not make any reference to her claims when speaking after an IOC Executive Board meeting today.

The IOC's failure to do so has been interpreted by some critics as pandering to China, due to stage the Winter Olympic Games from February 4 to 22, and being complicit with the country.

The IOC has also seen several countries, including upcoming Olympic hosts the United States and Australia, announce diplomatic boycotts of Beijing 2022 in protest at China's record on human rights.

"If we were to start to take political sides, we would never get the 205 or 206 National Olympic Committees to the Games - this would be the politicisation of the Olympic Games and this would be the end of the Olympic Games," Bach said.

The IOC held its latest Executive Board meeting remotely today ©IOC
The IOC held its latest Executive Board meeting remotely today ©IOC

The IOC has been following a much-criticised policy of "quiet diplomacy" in the case of Peng, while the Women's Tennis Association has opted for a sterner tactic, suspending all of its events in China as a direct response to concerns over the player's welfare.

Its calls with the three-time Olympian and Grand Slam doubles champion are the only reported contacts Peng has had with people outside China since she made the allegations against former top Chinese Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli last month.

Bach said the IOC "have achieved so far with these talks what we could reasonably be expected to achieve".

"We could not feel her being under pressure," Bach said.

"It's very easy to have suspicions. 

"Suspicions you can have always and about everything.

"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."

The IOC has ensured the "physical integrity" of Peng through its calls, Bach added, labelling that "the most important human right".