Peng Shuai: Chinese tennis star denies making assault claim as concerns persiston December 20, 2021 at 5:12 am

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The Chinese tennis star says her post was misunderstood, but the WTA continues to call for a probe.

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai

Image source, PA Media

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied making an accusation of sexual assault, in her first media interview since alleging a top Chinese leader had coerced her to have sex.

Ms Peng sparked global concern when she disappeared from public view after posting the allegations online.

She has now said there had been “a lot of misunderstandings” about the post.

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was still concerned that she was being censored by the state.

In the video interview with Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper, Ms Peng explained: “I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me. This point must be emphasised very clearly.”

However in her original note, which was posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in November, she accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him on a number of occasions.

Ms Peng also told Lianhe Zaobao that she was not under surveillance, saying: “Why would anyone monitor [me?] [I have] always been very free.”

The interview was done on the sidelines of a sporting event in Shanghai, where she appeared with other national athletes.

Responding to her latest comments, the WTA said it welcomed her appearance “in a public setting” but that it did not “alleviate or address…concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation… into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern,” the WTA said.

What happened to Peng Shuai?

On 2 November Ms Peng posted a 1,600-word note on Weibo, kicking off what would become the most significant case of its kind in China’s slow-moving #MeToo movement.

The note, addressed to Mr Zhang, claimed they had had an affair which began when he coerced her into having sex. “Why did you seek me out, take me to your home, and force me to have sex with you,” read one line.

The post was swiftly scrubbed from Weibo, but not before it quickly went viral.

Ms Peng then vanished from public life for weeks, sparking concern worldwide about her safety. A #WhereisPengShuai campaign was launched, fuelled by calls from other tennis stars including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

The WTA, the governing body of women’s tennis, has spearheaded calls for an investigation into her initial claims.

Chinese state media subsequently published pictures of her and carried a widely-questioned e-mail that she purportedly wrote to the WTA where she said “everything is fine”.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) also spoke to Ms Peng twice in video calls where she reportedly said she was safe and well.

But many continue to believe the tennis star is under state duress and is being censored. The WTA has questioned the veracity of the email they received from Ms Peng.

In Sunday’s interview, the tennis star said she had written the email in Chinese herself, and that the English translation of the message published by Chinese state media was accurate.

The WTA has suspended all of its tournaments in China over the issue, putting pressure on the IOC and other sporting groups to take similar actions. They have declined to do so.

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