Peng Shuai: tennis star denies making sexual assault claims

Questions remain over Chinese tennis stars wellbeing

Jess Bradbury
22nd February 2022
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
Grand Slam tennis champion, Peng Shuai, has said that a “huge misunderstanding” has arisen over her post claiming that she was sexually assaulted by a former Chinese party leader.

The post, which was originally shared in November 2021, was swiftly deleted and Peng went missing from public life for weeks. After global concern was sparked, the tennis star recently spoke to French newspaper L’Equipe and denied that she had ever made any allegations of sexual assault. The interview was said to be conducted in highly controlled circumstances, with questions from the newspaper having to be submitted in advance. Peng was also accompanied to the interview by the Chinese Olympic Committee’s chief of staff, who acted as a translator according to the report. Another condition of the interview was that her comments had to be published verbatim in a question-and-answer format. She thanked those who had spoken out in caution over her wellbeing, but also questioned why the situation had been “exaggerated”. Peng also told the outlet that she was living a normal life and had never disappeared, something which had previously been used by Chinese state officials to dismiss concerns. The tennis player also stated that she deleted her Weibo post herself and did so of her own accord because she “wanted to”. The 36-year-old also hinted to the outlet that she may be retiring from professional tennis, stating: “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.”

In response to the interview, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has admitted that concerns over Peng’s wellbeing have still not been alleviated. In a statement, they said: “It’s always good to see Peng Shuai, whether in an interview or attending the Olympic Games. However, her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from 2nd November”. They reiterated their view that the tennis player took a “bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusations that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader”. The WTA is still calling for a formal investigation into Peng’s allegations through appropriate authorities, and for the chance to meet with her privately to discuss the situation. They finally re-emphasised in their statement that “we continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai”.

Human rights lawyer, Teng Biao, stated on Twitter that “the simple truth is Peng Shuai is forced to say what the Chinese authorities want her to say”. His comments echo many of the concerns from people and organisations outside of China, with further suspicions arising from the interview.

Marc Ventouillac, one of the two journalists for L’Equipe who spoke to Peng, says that he is still unsure if she is free. China’s intentions, the writer states, were clear from the beginning: by granting the interview during Beijing’s time hosting the Winter Olympics, Chinese officials hope to put the controversy to rest so that the event is not overshadowed. He also said that one of L’Equipe’s aims for the interview was to show Peng the worldwide concern for her, and that she is “not alone”.

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AUTHOR: Jess Bradbury
English lit student with a very good talent for rambling. Twitter/IG @jessbradburyx

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