Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has once again denied making sexual assault allegations in her first interview with an overseas media outlet since global outcry about her safety.
The wellbeing of the three-time Olympian became a matter of global concern in November when she appeared to allege on social media that former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her in the past.
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The former Wimbledon doubles champion's post was then taken off social media and she didn't appear in public for around three weeks.
But Peng told French newspaper L'Equipe in an interview on Monday that she never accused anyone of sexual assault, and that she was the one who deleted the post that had appeared to make such a claim.
"First of all, I would like to thank all the ATP and WTA players, all the athletes and all the personalities in large numbers who cared about me," Peng said.
"But I didn't think there would be such concern and I would like to know: why such concern?
"I never disappeared, everyone could see me.
"What happened – I already answered this question, during an interview in Shanghai as well as by an email addressed to the WTA, and many other emails.
"This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope that we no longer distort the meaning of this post. And I also hope that we don't add more hype on this."
Peng has previously attempted to retract the sexual assault allegation and did so again on Monday.
"I never said anyone sexually assaulted me," she said.
"I never disappeared. It's just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the IOC, messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages.
"But with my close friends, I always remained in close contact. I discussed with them, answered their emails, I also discussed with the WTA.
"But, at the end of the year, their website's communication computer was changed and many players had difficulty logging in at that time.
"But we always kept in touch with colleagues. That's why I don't know why the information that I had disappeared, spread."
Olympics boss to meet with Peng Shuai
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said last week that he will meet with Peng inside the "closed loop of the Beijing Winter Games.
The IOC has held several video calls with Peng and Bach said a planned meeting would go ahead at the February 4-20 Games.
"We know from her explanations ... that she is living in Beijing, that she can move freely, spending time with family and friends," Bach told a news conference.
"Now we will be able to do the next step in a personal meeting to convince us in person of her well-being and state of mind."
Bach said if Peng wanted her allegations to be investigated he would support her.
"If she wants to have an inquiry we would also support her in this. But it's her life, it's her allegations," Bach said.
"We will know more about her physical integrity and mental state when we meet her in person."
Last month fans at the Australian Open, keen to keep the issue in the public eye, wore T-shirts asking: 'Where is Peng Shuai'.
The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has suspended tournaments in China due to its concerns over her safety.
China has not directly commented on Peng's initial post but said after the WTA's move that it "opposes the politicisation of sports".
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