Ash Barty speaks out amid Peng Shuai controversy in China

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·Sports Reporter
·4-min read
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Peng Shuai has still only made very limited public appearances since making sexual assault allegations against a high ranking Chinese official, with Ash Barty joining the ranks of the world's top tennis players in calling for her safety. Pictures: Getty Images
Peng Shuai has still only made very limited public appearances since making sexual assault allegations against a high ranking Chinese official, with Ash Barty joining the ranks of the world's top tennis players in calling for her safety. Pictures: Getty Images

Tennis world No.1 Ash Barty has joined the ranks of some of the world's top players in calling on China to properly demonstrate the safety of Peng Shuai.

It has been several weeks since Peng first aired an allegation of sexual assault against a former high ranking official, with the 35-year-old only making very limited public appearances since, often via video calls.

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Her social media accounts have been heavily restricted and any mention of her sexual assault allegation has been censored from Chinese internet users.

China's response to the public allegations has led to concerns for Peng's safety, with the WTA making the bold move to suspend tournament operations in the nation until the governing body can be assured of Peng's safety and freedom within China.

A number of players have called on China to demonstrate that Peng is safe and well, including the likes of men's world No.1 Novak Djokovic.

In a recent interview with Tennis Australia, Barty added her voice to the calls for more transparency in the situation.

"Peng Shuai is part of the tennis family, she has been on the tour for a long time and is someone we all know and respect," Barty said.

“The most important thing right now is that she is safe.”

Peng has appeared in video calls with officials from the International Olympic Committee, with the IOC maintaining that the Chinese star is indeed safe.

The IOC has nevertheless declined to release video recordings or transcripts of their conversations with Peng.

Amid the ongoing uncertainty about Peng's safety, WTA chairman and CEO Steve Simon opted to suspend the WTA's operations in China until the situation was resolved.

China responds to WTA's 'strong stance' over Peng Shuai's safety

With the exception of a widely criticised video call with the IOC, Peng has been largely absent from public life.

Peng, a three-time Olympian, did appear in mid-November at a dinner with friends and a children's tennis tournament in Beijing, photographs and videos published by Chinese state media and by the tournament's organisers showed.

The WTA remained unconvinced of her safety however, making the bold move to suspend their operations in China.

Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly mention the WTA on Thursday but pointedly said that China "opposes the politicisation of sports".

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper, published by the ruling Communist Party's People's Daily, said the WTA was betraying the Olympic spirit and bringing politics into tennis.

There has been serious concern among the international sporting community for the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused senior Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault several weeks ago. (Photo by PAUL CROCK,ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)
There has been serious concern among the international sporting community for the safety of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who accused senior Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault several weeks ago. (Photo by PAUL CROCK,ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images)

"Some forces in the West are instigating a boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics," it added, referring to the February event which some rights groups want boycotted over China's human rights record.

Peng, a former world No. 1 doubles player, was unseen in public for nearly three weeks after she posted a message on social media in early November accusing China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into sex.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the government have commented on Peng's accusation and the topic has been blocked on China's heavily-censored internet.

"While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation," WTA chief executive Steve Simon said, suggesting she was pressured to retract her allegation.

Equality for women would suffer a setback if powerful people could suppress accusations of assault, he added. "I am also greatly concerned about the risks that all of our players and staff could face if we were to hold events in China in 2022."

From former women's greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova to men's No. 1 Novak Djokovic, many in the tennis world have applauded the WTA, which stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in TV and sponsorship revenue.

With agencies

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