Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai reiterates sexual assault denials

BEIJING: Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she has never accused anyone of sexual assault, according to an interview published today (February 7), once again denying an accusation that sparked global concerns about her safety.

Peng Shuai said she “never disappeared”. Photo: Paul Crock / AFP

The former world number one in doubles claimed in a social media post in November that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her to have sex during a year-long relationship.

The post was quickly deleted and Peng was not heard from for almost three weeks. She has since appeared at a number of public events and in December denied ever making the allegation.

“I never said anyone sexually assaulted me in any way,” Peng told the French sports daily L’Equipeand echoed a similar comment she made to a Singaporean newspaper in December.

The 36-year-old added that she was the one who deleted her claim from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

It was widely suspected that the country’s strict internet censorship, sensitive to any criticism of the government, had removed them.

But if L’Equipe asked her why she deleted it, Peng said, “Because I wanted to.”

“After this post, there was a big misunderstanding in the outside world,” she said.

“I don’t want the meaning of this post to be twisted any more. And I don’t want any more media hype about it.”

When asked about the concern her absence caused, Peng said she “never disappeared.”

“It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends or people from the IOC, messaged me and it was just impossible to answer so many messages.”

Despite her appearances following the three-week absence that showed her attending sporting events, there were concerns about Peng’s safety.

After she denied making sexual assault allegations in December, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said she was still not confident in her well-being.

Bach meeting

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach held a video conference call with Peng on Nov. 21, but it led to accusations that he was trying to protect the 2022 Winter Games hosts.

Bach said ahead of the games that the IOC would support an investigation into her allegations if she wanted one, saying the meeting was there to “learn better about her physical integrity and mental state”.

He met Peng personally at the weekend, Peng said L’Equipe during the interview, which took place in the bubble of the Beijing Olympics.

“We had dinner together on Saturday and had a nice chat and exchanged ideas,” said Peng, who also announced her retirement from tennis in the interview.

“He asked me if I was considering competing again, what my projects were, what I was up to and so on,” she added.

Peng was accompanied during the interview by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan.

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