Peng Shuai Denies Making Sexual Assault Allegation amid Concern for Her Safety

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured Columnist IVDecember 20, 2021

FILE - China's Peng Shuai reacts during her first round singles match against Japan's Nao Hibino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia on Jan. 21, 2020. The head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former high-ranking government official in that country of sexual assault. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)
AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File

Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai told a Singapore newspaper Sunday that she never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, per the Associated Press (h/t ESPN), despite her social media post in November that said former Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her.

"First of all, I want to emphasize something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me," she told the Lianhe Zaobao Chinese-language newspaper in a video interview. "I need to emphasize this point very clearly."

According to Reuters, Peng said that "her post on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media site, which had been quickly removed, was a 'private matter'" and that "people have many misunderstandings" about the Weibo post, though she did not further address what those misunderstandings might be.

The 35-year-old Peng said she had been living in her Beijing home unsupervised since the Weibo post in question went online. It was deleted shortly after being posted.

The WTA released the following statement after Peng's comments Sunday:

"It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well. 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. 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."

The WTA has currently halted all tournaments in China. Peng said Sunday that she had emailed the WTA and its chair, Steve Simon, denying the allegation of sexual assault. Simon previously said he "had a hard time believing" it was Peng who actually wrote the email.

After the initial Weibo post, Peng disappeared from the public eye for nearly three weeks, leading to concern over her safety and well-being. Despite her public comments Sunday, there will be more concern that she is potentially the victim of a broader culture of censorship in China.

The Human Rights Watch accused the IOC of sportswashing human rights violations in late November after its president, Thomas Bach, spoke to Peng in a 30-minute video call. The HRW's director of global initiatives, Minky Worden, noted it is already "very hard to report on what is happening in China."

"Chinese officials are blocking not just a United Nations backed investigation into human-rights violations, but also the journalists the world relies on to reveal new abuses," he added. "So, it was a big surprise on Sunday to see the International Olympic Committee president and senior officials interview Chinese three-time Olympian and former world No. 1 doubles tennis player Peng Shuai by video."

Beijing is hosting the 2022 Winter Games.