In an hour-long interview with L’Equipe, a French newspaper, tennis star Peng Shuai denied accusing a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault and announced her retirement from competitive tennis.
“Sexual assault? I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” said Peng when asked by L’Equipe.
Peng’s safety has been a concern since her November 2 social media post in which she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her three years ago following a round of tennis. She also said Zhang’s wife guarded the door. Her post was deleted nearly 30 minutes after publication and Peng’s account on Weibo — a Chinese social media platform — was blocked from searchers on the platform.
“This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world,” Peng said when asked about the Weibo post. “I hope that we no longer distort the meaning of this post. And I also hope that we don’t add more hype on this.”
Peng told the newspaper that she deleted the post, and also denied disappearing from the public eye.
“It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the IOC, messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages,” Peng said. “At the end of the year, their [WTA’s] website’s communication computer was changed and many players had difficulty logging in at that time.”
“My sentimental problems, my private life, should not be involved in sports and politics,” she added.
Peng’s interview with L’Equipe is her first with a Western publication since her sexual assault accusations, but it’s not the first time she’s denied making the accusations.
In December, Peng spoke with a Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper called Lianhe Zaobao.
“I want to emphasize one thing that is very important,” Peng said. “That I have never spoken or written about anyone sexually assaulted me. This point is very important to be emphasized clearly.”
“First of all, it’s my personal privacy,” she continued. “There possibly has been a lot of misunderstanding. Therefore, there should not be such distorted interpretation here.”
Following her initial post, Peng was not seen or heard from publicly until a November 17 statement attributed to Peng was shared on Twitter by CGTN — a Chinese state-affiliated media company — where Peng denied her claim that Zhang sexually assaulted her.
The IOC has held two calls with Peng, including a December 2nd call that “reconfirmed” that Peng appeared to be “appeared to be safe and well.”
Shortly after the second call with the IOC, the Women’s Tennis Association announced a suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including in Hong Kong.
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement to the WTA website. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”
“As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong,” Simon added. “In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault”
Peng’s story quickly became world-wide news, with the White House and the European Union calling for an investigation into her accusations.
During last month’s 2022 Australian Open, Tennis Australia was widely criticized for forcing fans to remove “Where is Peng Shuai?” t-shirts while attending the 2022 Australian Open in Melbourne. Following global backlash, Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley reversed course days later.
“So we support the WTA’s position but at the same time we have terms and conditions about coming on site,” Tiley said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
“What we’ve said is that if anyone comes on site with an intent to disrupt and use the Australian Open as a platform for themselves and really disrupts the comfort and the safety of our fans, then they’re not welcome,” Tiley continued.
“However, if someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai, that’s fine,” he added.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to email@example.com.
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