BEIJING – Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has told a French newspaper that international concern over her well-being is based on “an enormous misunderstanding” and she again denied having accused a Chinese official of sexual assault.
L’Equipe, which specializes in sports news, published the interview Monday. The publication said it spoke to the tennis player a day earlier in a Beijing hotel in an hour-long interview organized through China’s Olympic committee.
The newspaper said it 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 – which it said was another pre-condition for interview – in question-and-answer form.
Peng had also denied saying she was sexually assaulted in an interview with a Singapore newspaper back in December.
Also Monday, the International Olympic Committee released a statement saying IOC President Thomas Bach had dinner with Peng on Saturday, and she attended the China-Norway curling match with IOC member Kirsty Coventry.
L’Equipe asked Peng about a post in November on her verified account on a leading Chinese social media platform, Weibo, which kicked off a storm of international concern about her.
In that post, Peng wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, had forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals. Her post also said they had sex once seven years ago and she had feelings for him after that.
Peng briefly disappeared from public view, then appeared at some promotional appearances arranged by the government. The interview with L’Equipe was her first sit-down discussion with non-Chinese media since the accusation.
But speaking to L’Equipe, Peng denied having accused Zhang of assault.
“Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.
The lengthy post quickly disappeared from Peng’s account. Asked why by L’Equipe, she said: “I erased it. ”
“Why? Because I wanted to, ” she added.
In the interview, Peng did not reply directly to a question about whether she has been in trouble with Chinese authorities since the post. Instead, she responded with a pat-sounding answer that echoed views often expressed by the Chinese government about sport and politics.
“I was to say first of all that emotions, sport and politics are three clearly separate things, ” the newspaper quoted her as saying.” My romantic problems, my private life, should not be mixed with sport and politics. ”
Asked what her life has been like since the November posting, she replied: “It is as it should be: Nothing special. ”
Peng, 36, also confirmed that she would be retiring from professional competition. She last played at the Qatar Open in February 2020.
“Considering my age, my multiple surgeries and the pandemic that forced me to quit for so long, I think it will be very difficult to regain my physical level,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.