Peng Shuai: Chinese tennis star denies making sexual assault claim

Peng Shuai being interviewed by a Singaporean television reporter

The Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has denied making the sexual assault allegations that appeared on her online account last month.

It is the first time we have heard from her directly since the post on November 2, in which she claimed the former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her to have sex with him. 

 In her interview with a Singaporean television reporter the 35-year-old said: "First and foremost, I must emphasise I have never said or wrote anyone sexually assaulted me, this is a very important point.

"About the Weibo (Chinas Twitter) post, that’s my personal issue, there are many misunderstandings, there is no distorted interpretation."

She went on to confirm she had written an email to the World Tennis Association under her own volition, and she told the reporter that she was not being monitored at home. 

"Why would anyone monitor me? I have always been very free."

Peng was interviewed while attending a cross-country skiing event in Shanghai where she was also seen talking to former Chinese basketball star Yao Ming.  

Her latest public appearance and her protestations that there have been ‘’many misunderstandings’’ have not eased the concerns of the World Tennis Association which has cancelled all of its tournaments in China next year.

The tennis star has barely been since she made the allegations Credit: AP

They have said they are still worried about her and still demand they are given independent contact with Peng Shuai to verify her safety and well-being. 

The reason there continues to be such scepticism despite her smiling appearances on camera and now an interview to deny any assault took place, is the staged way in which these videos have been released. 

Also, the tone and in some cases the clumsy or scripted wording used has given rise to doubt that Peng Shuai is visiting these places and speaking freely.  

Each appearance has raised more questions than it has answered. If she didn’t post that 1,600 word essay accusing Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct, who did?

What could be the distorted misinterpretation? And why has she, nor the Government, still not made any mention of Zhang Gaoli? If he has been wrongly accused surely his name must be cleared.  

The Chinese Government has not made any direct reference to the allegations made by Peng Shuai in the November 2 post and it has accused the WTA and western media of attempting to politicise sport.

Discussions regarding Peng Shuai and her situation have been censored on Chinese media.

It would be very unusual for an athlete of Peng Shuai’s status in China to have written a damning post, detailing with such emotion a very private and painful experience, without it having some veracity.  

She is old enough and experienced enough to have known the impact it would have and to know the ‘’shut it down’’ reaction it would prompt from the Government. 

It is unlikely her claims will ever be investigated. Not publicly anyway.  

There has never been a case like this, that we know of, but knowing the Chinese Government playbook it does look like a hasty cover-up, or a clean-up operation is under way.  

In similar cases we have seen people disappear for several months, or even years, but such is the profile of Peng and of her case that it was not an option this time.  

Images of Peng appeared on social media after her disappearance, but many were unconvinced she was safe Credit: AP

Instead, she is likely to have been talked to at length, told to forget about what she said, repent, and get out in public to show people she is ok. This appearance in Shanghai was the latest.  

Next month ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics she will meet with the International Olympic Committee when they arrive in China.

The three-time Olympian will again be seen by the cameras, smiling, laughing showing the world everything is ok.  

We can only hope that away from the cameras Peng Shuai has found a way to cope and reconcile with the life she must now lead.