WTA responds after Peng Shuai retracts sexual assault claims

Peng Shuai, pictured here at the US Open in 2014.
The WTA has responded after Peng Shuai's retraction. Image: Getty

The Women's Tennis Association has responded after Chinese player Peng Shuai appeared to retract claims she had been sexually assaulted by a former top politician in China.

In a video interview with Singapore's Chinese-language outlet Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday, Peng said there had been many "misunderstandings" following her social media post in November in which she had appeared to accuse former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

'AWFUL': Rafa Nadal in Covid-19 bombshell ahead of Aus Open

'SO SORRY': Australian Open rocked by latest high-profile withdrawal

"I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me," she was quoted as saying in the interview.

On Monday, the WTA responded by saying it is 'still concerned' that Peng is being coerced to retract her allegations.

"We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation," the body said, adding that it was at least good to see the 35-year-old in public again.

WTA boss Steve Simon recently made the bombshell decision to suspend all events in China until Peng's claims were fully investigated and it was given evidence that she wasn't being censored.

Peng held two closed-door video calls with the International Olympic Committee recently as the Olympic movement sought to deal with the case ahead of the Beijing Winter Games in February.

Peng Shuai and Zhang Gaoli, pictured here in China.
Peng Shuai has seemingly retracted her sexual assault claims against Zhang Gaoli. (Photo by PAUL CROCK,ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

But Sunday's interview, which took place on the sidelines of a cross-country skiing event in Shanghai, was the first time the former World No.1 doubles player has commented on the scandal to the press.

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

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".

The WTA holds about 10 tournaments in China every year, including the lucrative WTA Finals event.

The Chinese leg of the WTA tour is reportedly worth about $1.4 billion.

Simon, pictured here at the WTA Finals in 2015.
Simon (second from left) at the WTA Finals in 2015. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images for WTA) (Getty Images for WTA)

Peng Shuai claims dubious email was written by her

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

After the email was released it received widespread scepticism that it wasn't actually written by Peng.

“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 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.

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

Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.