Updated Dec 20, 2021 - Sports

Peng's sexual assault denial raises further concerns about her well-being

 Shuai Peng of China celebrates a shot during the match against Lin Zhu of China on Day 2 of 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open at Shenzhen Longgang Sports Center on January 6, 2020.
China's Shuai Peng during a 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open match in Shenzhen, China. Photo: Zhong Zhi/Getty Images

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her, saying there had been a "misunderstanding" over her November social media post about him.

Why it matters: The Women's Tennis Association said that the former world No. 1 doubles player's comments in an interview with a Chinese-language Singaporean outlet, published on Sunday, did not address its concerns about her well-being, per Reuters.

  • Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted that Peng's apparent retraction was "[o]nly deepening concerns about the pressure to which the Chinese government is subjecting her."

Driving the news: "I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," Peng said in the interview in Shanghai with Lianhe Zaobao, according to a translation by Reuters.

  • She added that "people have many misunderstandings" about her since-deleted post on Weibo, which she called a "private matter."
  • Peng also denied she'd been placed under house arrest or other restrictions, saying, "Why would someone keep watch over me? I've been very free all along," per a New York Times translation.

What they're saying: The WTA said in a media statement Sunday evening, "We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern."

The big picture: Peng alleged on her Weibo account on Nov. 2 that Zhang forced her to have sex with him and that they had an intermittent consensual relationship for about 10 years, according to screenshots translated by CNN. She said it left her feeling "like a walking corpse."

  • The post was deleted minutes later and Peng disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks, sparking an international outcry that saw the WTA suspend all tournaments in China.
  • Peng re-emerged in late November, when she held a video call with sports officials including International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
  • Chinese media released a statement from Peng at the time, which Axios' Kendall Baker writes read more like a hostage note, calling the sexual assault allegation "untrue."

Go deeper: Courage vs. coddling with China

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from the WTA.

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