Chinese ace at center of international storm appears at Beijing Games
Peng Shuai has been photographed alongside International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach at the Beijing Winter Games, after the tennis star again denied making sexual assault claims against a former senior Communist official.
Peng spoke with French media outlet L’Equipe for an interview which was published on Monday, in which the former world doubles number one reiterated that she had not made rape allegations against former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
Peng, 36, said a post which appeared on Chinese social media site Weibo last November had caused a “huge misunderstanding” after she appeared to accuse Zhang of coercing her into sex.
“I never said anyone sexually assaulted me,” said Peng, who found herself at the center of a ‘Where’s Peng Shuai?’ campaign after supposedly disappearing from the public eye in the wake of the initial scandal.
“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.
On Tuesday, a masked Peng was seen in a black bobble hat and coat bearing the Chinese flag, as she sat alongside IOC boss Bach at the big air freestyle skiing final at the Beijing Games.
Other images showed Peng waving to the crowd at the event, which was won by American-born Chinese star Eileen Gu.
The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion also met with Bach and other IOC members over the weekend.
On Monday, Peng wasseen at a mixed curling match between China and Norway at the Beijing Games.
According to an IOC statement about their meeting, Peng “shared her intention to travel to Europe when the Covid-19 pandemic is over.”
But talks with the IOC and the interview with L’Equipe haven’t fully satisfied bosses at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) about Peng’s well-being.
The organization announced last year that it was pulling out of events in China until there was “a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”
In response to Peng’s L’Equipe interview on Monday, WTA chairman Steve Simon 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 November 2nd...
“As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation.
“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai,” it added.
Others have claimed the interview with L’Equipe was ‘stage-managed’ by the Chinese authorities.
After winning gold in front of countrywoman Peng, Chinese skiing sensation Eileen Gu – who has been at the center of her own controversy after switching allegiances from the US – said she was “happy” the tennis player had been in the the crowd.
“I’m happy she is happy and healthy and out here doing her thing,” said the 18-year-old freestyle star.
Back in November, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said “some people should stop the malicious hype and not politicize this issue,” when asked about Peng.