Tennis star Peng Shuai speaks out for the first time in foreign media

‘I never said anyone sexually assaulted me’: ‘Missing’ Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai insists her social media post was an ‘enormous misunderstanding’ as she FINALLY speaks to the foreign media in stage-managed interview

  • Peng Shuai claimed in a now-deleted Webo post that she was ‘forced into sex’
  • She went missing in wake of claims against the former Chinese vice-president
  • Now, in her first interview with independent media since the claims, Shuai says it is an ‘enormous misunderstanding’ and she wasn’t sexually assaulted
  • L’Equipe interview has raised eyebrows and may only cause more concern 

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied her own claims of sexual assault and said she never disappeared from public view in a heavily stage-managed interview overseen by Beijing officials that will raise further concerns about her safety.

Peng, 36, claimed in a social media post last year that she had been forced into sex by Zhang Gaoli – China’s former vice-premier – sparking an internet crackdown by Beijing censors that also saw her vanish from public view for weeks. 

But Peng, sitting down for her first interview outside state media on Sunday, told French magazine L’Equip that she ‘never said’ she had been sexually assaulted and that she ‘never disappeared’.

Accompanied during the interview by a Chinese Olympic committee official who translated all her comments, Peng insisted that her social media post was the subject of an ‘enormous misunderstanding’ by the public. 

Peng Shuai was the subject of international concern when she disappeared back in November

Peng accused Zhang Gaoli – the country’s former vice-premier – of sexual assault in November

In a scenario that will raise eyebrows, the interview with the French publication L’Equipe was carried out on condition that they had to submit questions in advance and that a Chinese Olympic committee official sat in on the discussion and translated her comments from Chinese. 

The newspaper published her comments verbatim in question and answer form – which it said was another pre-condition for interview.

Peng, who also met with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach at Beijing 2022 on Saturday, is quoted as saying: ‘Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault.’

She added: ‘This post resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world. My wish is that the meaning of this post no longer be skewed.’

At the Australian Open, fans wore ‘where is Peng Shuai’ t-shirts in support of the tennis star

Now Shuai (pictured in 2017) has insisted it was all an ‘enormous misunderstanding’

In another answer, Peng, 36, said: ‘First of all, I would like to thank all the ATP and WTA players, all the athletes and all the personalities in large numbers who cared about me.

‘But I didn’t think there would be such concern and I would like to know: why such concern?’

She continued: ‘I never said anyone sexually assaulted me in any way.

‘I never disappeared, everyone could see me. 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.

‘But with my close friends, I always remained in close contact. I discussed with them, answered their emails, I also discussed with the WTA.

‘But, at the end of the year, their website’s communication computer was changed and many players had difficulty logging in at that time.

The Chinese star had been seen and heard only via a few stage-managed public appearances

‘But we always kept in touch with colleagues. That’s why I don’t know why the information that I had disappeared, spread.

‘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.’

Incredibly, Peng claims she was partially unaware of the international storm that followed the sudden deleting of her social media post. In the subsequent weeks, Steve Simon, the president of the WTA, which governs women’s tennis, announced a suspension of their tournaments in China.

Peng said: ‘I don’t think I was aware of it all (global interest) because I don’t watch the news from foreign media much,’ she added.

‘I can’t read in English but I heard about it. I never thought there’d be such worry, though, and I’d like to know why was that the case?’

Peng added: ‘I didn’t choose anything. Like everyone, like you, I saw the statement on the official WTA website.

Peng made the allegations in a lengthy social media post on Weibo which was quickly deleted before her account was heavily censored

Naomi Osaka used the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai as she expressed her ‘shock’ on Twitter

Andy Murray then joined the search as the world reacted to the news of her disappearance 

‘It was very unusual for me, why would I need psychological assistance or that sort of thing? I didn’t know how I should figure it out. But if the WTA psychologists couldn’t reach me and thought that I had disappeared, I think that’s a bit exaggerated.

‘So after reading this statement, I responded to WTA president Steve Simon myself.

‘Several copies were sent, and these emails I wrote myself. This is my personal statement. The same evening, I also sent it by WeChat to my colleagues in the players’ department in order to personally confirm that I was the author of the messages sent from my work email.’

Peng’s remarks will do little or nothing to ease the concern around her situation.

In her now-deleted social media post last November, Peng wrote: ‘Why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterwards.’

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