Chinese Tennis Star Again Denies Accusing Government Official of Sexual Assault on Social Media

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai is again denying that she had accused a former Communist Party official of sexually assaulting her in a social media post late last year.  

L’Equipe, a French daily sports newspaper, published an interview it conducted with Peng in its Monday edition.  

“I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” Peng is quoted in the interview after she is asked directly if she actually wrote the post on her account on China’s Weibo social media platform.

In the November 2 post, Peng, a former Olympian who won titles at Wimbledon and the French Open, said former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex before it evolved into an on-off consensual relationship. Her post was quickly deleted and she vanished from public view for several days.  She eventually appeared at a tennis event and spoke by video with Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee president, during which she said she was safe.  

Her public absence sparked concern among some of the world’s top tennis players, including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and Novak Djokovic, and the Women’s Tennis Association suspended all of its sponsored tournaments in mainland China and Hong Kong.   

Peng told L’Equipe the initial post had caused a huge “misunderstanding” and that she did not want it to attract any more attention, and insisted that she had deleted it herself “because I wanted to.”  She also explained that her “disappearance” was simply due to her being unable to respond “to so many messages.” Peng said her personal life since the controversy surfaced had been uneventful, and stressed that her private life and personal problems should not be mixed with sports and politics.  

Peng also told the newspaper she was retiring from tennis.

She also said she had dinner with IOC President Bach Saturday, which the IOC confirmed in a separate statement Monday.  

Bach told the Reuters news agency when asked about Peng’s interview that any communication “is up to her, it is her life, it is her story.”

The newspaper said it submitted the questions to Peng in advance and conducted the interview in Chinese.  Wang Kang, the chief of staff of the Chinese Olympic Committee,  accompanied Peng during the interview and translated her answers for the reporter.  

WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon called for an open investigation into Peng’s initial accusations after a Chinese state-run media outlet released a statement it said was an email Peng had sent to Simon in which she denied the allegations and insisted she was not missing or unsafe, but just “resting at home.”

Peng issued a similar denial back in December during a virtual interview that was posted on the website of the Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.  

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.

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