Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai said she never accused anyone of sexual assault, according to an interview published on Monday, and once again went back to an accusation that raised worldwide concerns for her safety.
The former world number two double claimed in a post on social media in November that former Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli forced her to have sex for a year-long relationship.
The post was quickly deleted and Peng was not heard from for almost three weeks. She has since appeared at some public events and denied in December that she had ever made the accusation.
“I have never said that anyone has sexually abused me in any way,” Peng told French sports daily L’Equipe, repeating a similar comment she made to a Singaporean newspaper in December.
The 36-year-old added that she was the one who removed her accusation from Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.
It was widely suspected that the country’s strict internet censors, sensitive to all criticism of the ruling Communist Party, had removed it.
When L’Equipe asked her why she removed it, Peng said, “Because I wanted to.”
“There was a huge misunderstanding in the outside world after this post,” she said during the interview in the Winter Olympics bubble in Beijing.
“I do not want the meaning of this post to be twisted anymore. And I do not want any further media hype around it.”
“Never Disappeared” Some of the world’s biggest tennis stars, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Novak Djokovic, spoke about the Peng case. The UN and the White House also expressed concern.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) canceled its tournaments in China because of this.
Asked about the unrest triggered by her absence, Peng said she “had never disappeared”.
“It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends or people from the IOC, sent messages to me, and it was simply impossible to respond to so many messages.”
Peng was accompanied by the Chief of Staff of the Chinese Olympic Committee, Wang Kan, during the interview.
Concerns have revolved around Peng’s safety despite her appearances after the three-week absence, which showed that she went to sporting events.
After denying any allegations of sexual assault in December, the WTA said they were still not convinced of her well-being.
At the Australian Open last month, activists handed out 1,000 “Where’s Peng Shuai?” T-shirts for spectators before the women’s final to highlight the case.
Bach’s meeting The International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach held a video conference with Peng on November 21, but this led to accusations that he was trying to protect the hosts of the 2022 Winter Games.
Before the Games, Bach said the IOC would support an investigation into her allegations if she wanted one, and said he would hold a meeting with Peng to “find out more about her physical integrity and her mental state.”
Bach, along with IOC member Kirsty Coventry, met Peng over dinner at the Olympic Club in Beijing on Saturday, the body said in a statement.
“We had dinner together on Saturday and we had a nice discussion and exchange,” Peng told L’Equipe and also announced that she was retiring from tennis in the interview.
“He asked me if I was thinking of competing again, what my projects are, what I plan to do and so on.”
The IOC said Peng shared with Bach and Coventry “her intention to travel to Europe with the covid-19 pandemic is over”.
“All three agreed that all further communication about the content of the meeting would be left to her discretion,” the IOC statement added.