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7 Feb, 2022 11:32

Chinese sports star who ‘went missing’ appears for new interview

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai repeated that sexual assault allegations she made against a former government official were a 'misunderstanding'
Chinese sports star who ‘went missing’ appears for new interview

Tennis star Peng Shuai has said in her first Western interview in several months that sexual assault allegations against a senior Chinese government official on the social media platform Weibo were nothing more than a "misunderstanding."

Fears were sparked for Peng's safety late last year when the allegations appeared online before being quickly deleted, after which the 36-year-old wasn't seen in public for several weeks.

The situation prompted wide concern, with several of the sport's top stars making pleas for information as to her whereabouts while the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced that they would indefinitely withdraw from holding events in China. 

There were also several protests regarding the situation at last month's Australian Open in Melbourne.

But speaking to French publication L'Equipe, Peng says that that the allegations were unfounded in an interview which critics have claimed was stage-managed.

The newspaper said it was required to submit questions in advance to Peng at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, while her answers were translated into English by a member of the Chinese Olympic Committee.

"I would like to know: why such concern?... I never said anyone sexually assaulted me," she said in the interview, distancing herself from the lengthy statement which was posted to her social media profile in November, in which she accused former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

"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 twisted. And I also hope that we don't add more hype to this," she added. 

Peng added that she was content to be living a "normal life," repeating a phrase that Chinese government officials had previously used about her.

She also stated during the interview that she considers it likely that her professional career is over.

"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," Peng, who is a former doubles world number one and two-time Grand Slam champion, said to the French outlet.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also reported on Monday that Peng personally met with IOC president Thomas Bach on Saturday.

Bach was among the first to reach out to Peng in the wake last year's allegations and held a highly-publicized video call with her in the weeks after concerns for her safety had been sparked.