Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has again denied alleging sexual assault, in her first interview with Western media since she accused a Chinese party leader of coercing her into sex.
Peng spoke to French newspaper L’Equipe on Sunday at the Winter Olympics.
She sparked global concern last year after briefly disappearing from public view following her online accusation.
She has since dismissed these concerns and echoed Chinese official assertions that she is living a normal life.
The interview was granted to the French newspaper following permission from the Chinese Olympic Committee, whose representative also sat in on the hotel room meeting. The paper had to submit questions prior to the interview but said it was able to ask more on the day.
During the interview, the 36-year-old indicated that she was unlikely to return to the professional tennis circuit.
“Considering my age, my multiple surgeries and the pandemic that forced me to stop for so long, I believe it will be very difficult to regain my physical level,” she told L’Equipe.
The IOC on Monday also reported that the Chinese athlete had had dinner with president Thomas Bach in Beijing on Saturday, a follow-up meeting for the pair.
Mr Bach had been one of the first authorities to vouch for Peng’s welfare after he held a video call with her during the period of concern about her treatment by state authorities.
In the interview, Ms Peng said she was thankful for the concern she received but said: “I would like to know: why such concern?…I never said anyone sexually assaulted me”.
She said she never “disappeared”, but had been contacted by so many people after her social media post that it was “impossible” for her to reply to everyone. She said she deleted the post soon after.
“This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope that the meaning of this post will no longer be distorted. And I also hope that we don’t add more hype to this.”
In her original note, which was posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in November, she accused former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.
The post was swiftly scrubbed from Weibo, but not before it quickly went viral.
Ms Peng then vanished from public life for weeks, sparking global concern for her safety. A #WhereIsPengShuai campaign was launched, fuelled by calls from other tennis stars including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.
Every attempt by the Communist Party, at times in collusion with the International Olympic Committee, to play down the Peng Shuai controversy just seems to inflame it, leaving more questions.
In this case, French media outlet L’Equipe, in publishing these latest highly controlled comments has been as much involved in a propaganda exercise as in an “interview”.
The paper said it agreed to publish only her answers and not include any commentary at all around them.
Peng Shuai is reported to have said that she “never said anyone had sexually assaulted me”.
Well the obvious question is: In that case, what did you mean when you wrote on social media about Zhang Gaoli – former Politburo Standing Committee member – and said to him directly and publicly: “带我去你家，逼我和你发生关系” ?
That line could be translated as: “You took me to your house and raped me” or “You took me to your house and forced me to have sex with you” or “You took me to your house and pressured me into having sexual relations with you”.
Having multiple potential translations has caused confusion.
Either way, these are serious allegations about a very senior government figure. We still don’t know what the tennis star meant because L’Equipe did not ask her.
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