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Peng Shuai denies accusing ex-Chinese official of sexual assault

(Fred Lee/Getty Images)

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is denying that she said she was sexually assaulted by a former Chinese minister in a video posted by the Lianhe Zaobao Chinese-language newspaper, a Singaporean newspaper that is blocked in China.

In the video, Peng denies that she was ever sexually assaulted and said that the email posted by CGTN in November, in which she first retracted her claims, was “entirely written by myself” in Chinese before being translated to English.

“First of all, I want to emphasize something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me. I need to emphasize this point very clearly,” Peng said after asking the newspaper’s reporter to repeat her question.

“Regarding my Weibo post, it entirely concerns problems in my own private life and I think that everyone has a lot of misunderstandings of what happened. All those twisted misinterpretations are simply not true.”

In November, Peng detailed allegations in a now-deleted post uploaded to Weibo, a Chinese social media site, that revealed she and Zhang Gaoli had been involved in an on-and-off affair since 2011. In the post, she said that she slept with the former minister once in the year before he was promoted and the two then cut ties. In 2018, she says they rekindled the affair following Zhang’s retirement from politics. Peng says that the relationship later turned non-consensual and continued on for three years in an affair that she described as “unpleasant.”

The post also stated that she has “no evidence” because Zhang insisted on total secrecy.

According to the paper, Peng was interviewed at a promotional event for the Beijing Olympic Winter Games, set to begin February 4.

In response to the interview, the WTA said it was still concerned about the tennis star’s “well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.” In early December, the WTA suspended all tournaments in China over concerns about Shuai’s safety.

“As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” the WTA said in a statement. “We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern.”

Following the accusations, Peng disappeared from public life. She later appeared at a youth tennis event in Beijing and spoke with IOC officials following widespread concern over her whereabouts and safety. But many did not take those appearances as guarantees, with the European Union requesting “verifiable proof” in early December that the 35-year-old is safe.

“Her recent public reappearance does not ease concerns about her safety and freedom,” an EU spokesperson said.

On Sunday, Peng said that she is currently living at home in Beijing and is free to travel where she pleases without anyone watching over her.

“Why would there be someone keeping watch on me?” she said. “I’ve always been very free.”

Peng also asserted that she has not traveled internationally because there have not been any competitions. She also said it is safer for her to remain in China given the state of COVID.

“I’m not going to go overseas for no reason right now,” she said. “If there was no pandemic, I’d go overseas to watch competitions and the like. But I’m not going to go overseas just to prove something. Like what would I be doing over there?”

Peng’s name is not currently on the main draw entry list for the Australian Open, the next major competition in the WTA and the first major of the 2022 calendar year. The list cuts off at 104 players, however, and given Peng’s current world ranking of 194, it’s not unsurprising she’s absent from the main draw.

But the qualifiers entry list for the Australian Open, which features players with an entry ranking of 104 through 236, does not feature Peng. Currently, three Chinese players are featured in the main draw and six are featured on the qualifiers list.