Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied the sexual assault allegations she made against a retired top Chinese Communist Party official last year, saying it was a “huge misunderstanding.”
In an interview with French sports magazine L’Équipe, the 36-year-old athlete’s first Western media interview since her disappearance in November 2021, Peng revealed nothing much has changed in her life, The Washington Post reported.
“This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. 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 said in the hour-long interview, during which she denied making sexual assault allegations against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
Peng attracted international attention in November 2021 after she accused Zhang of sexual coercion in a now-deleted Weibo post, as NextShark previously reported. The three-time Olympian disappeared days after Chinese internet censors wiped all social media posts about the topic.
Addressing the deleted Weibo post and her sudden disappearance, Peng said she was the one who removed her post because she “wanted to.” The athlete also claimed she did not disappear after her post went viral.
“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. 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,” she said. “My sentimental problems, my private life, should not be involved in sports and politics.”
The interview was reportedly conducted on Sunday at the Chinese Olympic Committee’s hotel in Beijing, inside what Olympic organizers called a “closed-loop,” a setup designed to control the spread of COVID-19 amid the ongoing Winter Games.
Wang Kan, the chief of staff for the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC), was also present during the interview to serve as a translator. L’Équipe’s questions to the athlete were sent in advance before the “highly controlled” interview was conducted, according to BBC.
L’Équipe said it managed to land the “rare sit-down interview” after reaching out to the COC last month through the International Olympics Committee (IOC), CNN reported.
Elsewhere in the interview, Peng dropped hints that she might retire from competitive tennis since her body is no longer in top shape.
“Considering my age, my multiple surgeries and the pandemic that forced me to stop for so long, I believe it will be very difficult to regain my physical level,” she said.
In December 2021, the tennis star told Singapore news outlet LianheZaobao that she never “said or [wrote] that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point,” as NextShark previously reported.
In addition to the interview, Peng also had a dinner meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach and former Chair of the Athletes’ Commission and IOC member Kirsty Coventry, the IOC confirmed on Monday.
The dinner meeting, held at the Olympic Club fin Beijing on Saturday, was first referenced during a private video call between the star athlete and Bach in late November 2021 after her reappearance, as NextShark previously reported.
Bach, Coventry and Peng discussed several topics during the meeting, including their experiences competing at the Olympic Games and Peng’s “disappointment at not being able to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.” The IOC statement, however, did not mention Peng’s allegations or the reason for the meeting.
“We as a sports organization are doing everything to ensure that she is happy and I don’t think it is up to us to be able to judge in one way, just as it’s not for you to judge either in one way or another, her position,” IOC Director of Communications Mark Adams said during an IOC and Beijing Organizing Committee media briefing on Monday.