'Leave her alone': Fans defend Ash Barty over Peng Shuai silence

Ash Barty, pictured here in action at the US Open.
Ash Barty has been called out for her silence on the Peng Shuai situation. Image: Getty

Leading tennis writer Ben Rothenberg has bizarrely called out Ash Barty over her silence on the Peng Shuai situation in China.

Some of the biggest names in tennis such as Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all expressed their concerns for Peng's wellbeing.

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The Chinese star reappeared in public for the first time this week after seemingly disappearing following allegations of sexual assault against a former top politician.

Foreign governments and rights advocates have also increased their criticism of China's human rights practices after Peng disappeared for nearly three weeks after alleging that China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.

The tennis world has since come together to express their support for Peng, with messages from past and current players flooding social media.

However Rothenberg - one of the leading tennis journalists in the world - pointed out this week that women's World No.1 Barty has remained silent.

"WTA #1 Ash Barty has also not posted anything regarding Peng Shuai," Rothenberg tweeted after pointing out some other high-profile names who hadn't yet commented.

Barty hasn't played since the US Open, therefore she hasn't held a press conference since September - well before the Peng scandal arose.

The Australian star also isn't known to use social media for political purposes.

Fans were quick to question the necessity of Rothenberg calling out Barty.

IOC under fire over video call with Peng Shuai

A former doubles World No.1 and Wimbledon champion, Peng reappeared in Beijing over the weekend and held a video call with IOC boss Thomas Bach on Sunday.

But the Women's Tennis Association and top current and former tennis players have called for reassurance that Peng is safe, and rights groups have labelled efforts by Chinese state media to allay concerns about her wellbeing as unconvincing.

HRW's China director Sophie Richardson told a news briefing on Tuesday the IOC had shown a "remarkable lack of judgement" in its handling of the Peng case and "active complicity" in Beijing's abuses.

She said its interest seemed to be to keep the 2022 Winter Olympics on track, not the welfare of athletes.

Richardson also criticised Bach for failing to make clear publicly whether he had asked Peng if she had access to a lawyer or wanted to file charges around serious sexual assault claims, and encouraged governments to boycott diplomatically the Beijing Games, set for February.

Peng Shuai, pictured here at the Australian Open.
Peng Shuai has accused former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. (Photo by PAUL CROCK,ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

"The IOC has shown in the last few days just how desperate it is to keep the Games on the rails, no matter the human costs," Richardson said, while also slamming corporate sponsors of the Games for staying silent on Peng.

Amnesty International's China researcher Alkan Akad said the video call did little to ease fears over Peng's wellbeing and the IOC was entering "dangerous waters".

A WTA spokesperson said: "It was good to see Peng Shuai in recent videos, but they don't alleviate or address the WTA's concern about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.

"This video does not change our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."

with AAP

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