Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai told a French newspaper that international concern over her well-being is based on “an enormous misunderstanding” and denied having accused a high-ranking Chinese official of sexual assault.
The interview with L’Equipe was held under controlled conditions in Beijing and failed to answer some key questions about Peng’s initial accusations of sexual assault and whether she has since been in trouble with China’s authoritarian government.
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.
Also on Monday, the International Olympic Committee said it was not able to decide if there should be an investigation into Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai’s seemingly retracted sexual assault allegations. Spokesperson Mark Adams said all sides should listen to Peng’s words on the matter.
The IOC released a statement saying IOC President Thomas Bach had dinner with Peng on Saturday. That was the day after China’s president opened the Winter Olympics in Beijing, overshadowed by international concerns about Chinese human rights abuses and Peng’s situation.
The IOC said Peng also attended the China-Norway Olympic curling match with IOC member Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe.
L’Equipe said it had to submit questions in advance and that a Chinese Olympic committee official sat in on the discussion and translated Peng’s comments from Chinese.
The newspaper published her comments verbatim — which it said was another precondition for the interview — in question-and-answer form. Photos of Peng during the interview showed her wearing a red track-suit top with “China” in Chinese characters on the front.
L’Equipe asked Peng about a post that appeared briefly 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 after the post, 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.
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.
“This post resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world,” she also said. “My wish is that the meaning of this post no longer be skewed.”
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 whether she had 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.”