Tennis body's telling response to fresh Peng Shuai bombshell

Seen here, Chinese star Peng Shuai in action during her tennis career.
Peng Shuai has once again denied sexual assault allegations against a former top Chinese official. Pic: AAP

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) says it still harbours serious concerns for Peng Shuai, despite the Chinese tennis star's latest attempts to brush off the controversy surrounding her.

On Monday, Peng once again denied making sexual assault allegations against a former top official, in what was her first interview with an overseas media outlet since her safety and whereabouts sparked a global outcry.

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The wellbeing of the three-time Olympian became a matter of international 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.

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."

Peng Shuai in action at the Wuhan Open in China in 2017. (Photo by Kevin Lee/Getty Images)
Peng Shuai in action at the Wuhan Open in China in 2017. (Photo by Kevin Lee/Getty Images)

The L'Equipe interview, during which she was accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan who translated her responses, was published on Monday.

At the same time, a statement was released by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirming Peng had dinner on Saturday with its president Thomas Bach and the former chair of the IOC Athletes' Commission, Kirsty Coventry.

While WTA chief executive Steve Simon said it was encouraging to see and hear from Peng, the initial post about a sexual assault allegation can't be overlooked.

"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 2.

"To reiterate our view, Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader.

"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."

Peng Shuai again denies sexual assault allegation

Peng has previously attempted to retract the sexual assault allegation and did so again on Monday, but scepticism remains about whether the tennis star has been coerced by China into promulgating a much different narrative.

"I never said anyone sexually assaulted me," Peng 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."

with AAP

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