Peng Shuai: WTA chief remains ‘deeply concerned’ tennis star ‘is not free from censorship or coercion’

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File: WTA chief Steve Simon remains ‘deeply concerned’ over Peng Shuai’s well being and safety  (Associated Press)
File: WTA chief Steve Simon remains ‘deeply concerned’ over Peng Shuai’s well being and safety (Associated Press)

The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) is “deeply concerned” about Peng Shuai and is worried she “is not free from censorship or coercion”.

A WTA statement issued by a spokesperson on Saturday said Steve Simon had reached out to the Chinese tennis star “via various communication channels”.

The statement said Mr Simon had sent Peng two emails after which it was “clear her responses were influenced by others”.

“He remains deeply concerned that Peng is not free from censorship or coercion and decided not to re-engage via email until he was satisfied her responses were her own and not those of her censors,” the statement said.

“The WTA remains concerned about her ability to communicate freely, openly, and directly,” it added.

The statement on Mr Simon not deciding to engage through email comes after two instances of screenshots of emails, allegedly written by the tennis star to the WTA chief, were shared on Twitter.

In the first instance, China’s state-run CGTV posted one screenshot. In the other, a man claiming to be Peng’s friend, accused Mr Simon of “turning a blind eye” to another email.

Mr Simon had earlier responded to the mail released by CGTV, saying he had “a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her.”

“The statement released today by Chinese state media concerning Peng Shuai only raises my concerns as to her safety and whereabouts,” he had said.

The WTA has threatened to pull its tournaments out of China “and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Mr Simon had told US media.

Meanwhile, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said he had spoken to Peng on a video call. The IOC, however, had not released a transcript of the call, saying Mr Bach had found Peng to be doing well.

“She explained that she is safe and well, living at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected at this time. That is why she prefers to spend her time with friends and family right now,” the IOC had said in a statement, which added she had “thanked the IOC for its concern about her well-being.”

The 30-minute call had come as global concern had just started to begin about Peng’s safety.

There have been calls for the IOC to release the video to the public after it released just one photo of Mr Bach talking to Peng on the video call.

The IOC has also been criticised by human rights activists, who claim the IOC is toeing China’s line.

Yaqui Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, attacked the sports body.

“The IOC 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,” Mr Yaqui told the Associated Press.

Peng had on 2 November posted a 1,600-word testimony, saying China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into having sex with him.

Her Weibo post on the matter was quickly taken down and Chinese authorities have since stopped allowing any discussions on the topic of her #MeToo claims on the country’s social media.

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