Peng Shuai's bombshell claim of sexual assault 'misunderstanding'

Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli, pictured here in China.
Peng Shuai says she never accused Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Image: Getty

Peng Shuai has dropped a bombshell amid the ongoing controversy surrounding her wellbeing in China, saying she never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her and that a social media post she had made last month had been misunderstood.

Peng's wellbeing became a matter of concern among the global tennis community and human rights groups when she appeared to allege that former Chinese vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her in the past.

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The post was soon taken down, and Peng was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.

The former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion has since re-emerged, but the WTA recently took the extraordinary step of suspending all events in China until it had verifiable proof that Peng's claims were being taken seriously and that she wasn't being censored.

However the saga took a staggering twist on Sunday when Peng gave what is believed to be her first interview with foreign press.

"I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," she said in the video posted by Lianhe Zaobao, a Singapore media outlet.

“With regards to [the social media post], it’s about my personal privacy. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding. There [should be] no distorted interpretation.”

Peng also said that she had been living at home in Beijing without supervision. She did not mention Zhang.

Her remarks on Sunday marked the first time she had addressed the matter on camera in public.

She spoke on the sidelines of a cross-country skiing event in Shanghai that she attended.

Peng Shuai says controversial email was written by her

Early this month, the Women's Tennis Association, which has sought a direct line of communication with Peng, said it would suspend tournaments in China immediately due to concerns over the treatment of Peng and the safety of other players.

The WTA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

China has not directly commented on Peng's initial post, but said after the WTA's move to suspend tournaments in China that it "opposes the politicisation of sports".

Peng Shuai, pictured here in action at the US Open in 2014.
Peng Shuai in action at the US Open in 2014. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Discussion of the scandal, which emerged as Beijing prepares to stage the Winter Olympics in February, has been heavily censored in China.

Peng said in the video posted on Sunday that she had personally written a letter last month to WTA head Steve Simon, in which she denied the allegation of assault, and that an English translation of it by Chinese state media was accurate.

“They more or less said the same thing,” Peng said, adding that the email response was “entirely on my own volition”.

The email said: “The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true.

“I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.”

Simon had said at the time that he "had a hard time believing" that Peng had actually written the email or believed what had been attributed to her.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has held two video calls with the 35-year-old Peng.

At the Shanghai event on Sunday, Peng appeared on a fifth floor viewing balcony with athletes from various sports, including former NBA basketball star Yao Ming, and watched for about 20 minutes, according to the Lianhe Zaobao report.

She wore a black jacket with a China flag and a red T-shirt with the characters for China.

with agencies

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