Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai again denies making sexual assault allegation
Peng told a French newspaper there had been a “huge misunderstanding” over an online post in which she appeared to accuse a former top official.
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Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis player who vanished from public view last year after appearing to accuse a former top government official of sexual assault, has denied ever making the allegation in an interview with a French newspaper.
Peng’s well-being became the subject of international concern in November after a lengthy social media post that appeared to accuse Zhang Gaoli, the former vice premier of the Chinese government, of sexually assaulting her as part of a yearslong affair. The post to Peng’s official account on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform popular in China, was deleted soon after it was published, and Peng did not appear again in public for almost three weeks.
Her subsequent retraction of the allegation, which was published by Chinese state media, was met with skepticism by foreign tennis officials, players and others who questioned whether she was speaking freely.
“I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” Peng told L’Equipe, a French newspaper focused on sports, in an interview published on Monday, her first with a foreign news organization since the social media post briefly appeared on Nov. 2.
Echoing comments she had previously made to Chinese-language media, Peng said there had been a “huge misunderstanding in the outside world” over the post.
Peng, 36, said her life had been “nothing special” since that day, and that she had deleted the post herself. She also denied that she had disappeared.
“It’s just that many people, like my friends or people from the [International Olympic Committee] messaged me, and it was simply impossible to answer so many messages. But I’ve been always in close contact with my close friends,” she told L’Equipe in the interview, which the newspaper said took place on Sunday at a hotel in Beijing, where the 2022 Winter Olympics are underway.
She did not directly address a question about whether the post had gotten her in trouble with the Chinese authorities, and instead said sports should not be politicized — echoing a government line. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian has said the issue is being “maliciously hyped.”
Peng was accompanied by two people including Wang Kan, chief of staff of the Chinese Olympic Committee, who arranged the hourlong interview after a request from the newspaper. L’Equipe agreed to submit its questions in advance and publish Peng’s answers verbatim without comment, although it said it was able to ask additional questions during the interview that were not preapproved.
The tennis star spoke in Chinese, with translations provided by Wang as well as L’Equipe’s own interpreter in Paris. The newspaper said Peng, wearing a mask and the red tracksuit of the Chinese hockey team, “appeared in good shape.”
Peng, a former world No. 1 doubles player and three-time Olympian, also told L’Equipe she was retiring from professional tennis, citing a longtime knee injury that she had been receiving treatment for abroad before the pandemic. She said she regretted not being able to compete at the Tokyo Olympics last year.
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