Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images
BEIJING — Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has backtracked on her sexual assault allegations against a powerful Chinese official and said she is retiring from playing tennis competitively in a carefully managed interview released this week that was meant to appease global concerns about his personal safety in China.
“I never said someone sexually assaulted me,” she told French sports magazine L’Equipe in a chat hosted by the Chinese Olympic Committee. “My private life should not be discussed in sport and politics.”
The seat maintenance is Peng’s first since last November, when she accused retired Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault during a romantic relationship that spanned years. Zhang has not publicly responded to the allegations.
Shortly after the L’Equipe interview was published, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that its president, Thomas Bach, had dinner with the Chinese tennis player on Saturday in Beijing, where they are both due to attend. at the Winter Olympics.
In one declaration, the IOC said Bach and Peng were joined for dinner by Zimbabwean IOC member Kirsti Coventry, after which the two women also attended a mixed curling match between China and Norway. In her interview with L’Equipe and in the IOC statement, Peng said she intended to visit Europe at some vague time, “after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
However, the IOC statement made no mention of the sexual assault allegations that precipitated the dinner or whether she has the ability to live, speak and move freely in China.
“It’s not an IOC judgment to make,” said IOC spokesman Mark Adams. “Our job is to stay in touch with her and, as we have explained in the past, to conduct personal and discreet diplomacy to stay in touch with her as we have done…As a sports organization , we’re doing everything we can to make sure she’s happy.”
Global concerns for Peng’s personal safety and freedom abounded following his accusation against Zhang, who was crucial in securing Beijing’s bid for the Winter Olympics, which began last Friday. After saying she was unable to contact Peng, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said it was suspending all tennis tournaments in China in protest.
Peng has since largely faded from public view since November, appearing in only a handful of photos and videos posted online by a Chinese state tennis official and state media on Twitter, a platform – form blocked in China.
“I just rested at home, and everything is fine,” Peng reportedly said wrote. A screenshot of the letter, in which a the computer cursor was still visiblewas shared on Twitter by the Chinese state broadcaster.
Her original social media post accusing Zhang of sexual assault was deleted from the Chinese internet less than an hour after it was posted, and it remains almost completely censored from Chinese social media.
In her interview with L’Equipe, Peng claimed that she deleted the post herself. “This message has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope the meaning of this message will not be distorted again,” she said in Mandarin, as a Chinese Olympic official attended. to the entire interview and provided the official translation. . “I’m a completely normal girl, a completely ordinary tennis player.”
Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing.