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Peng Shuai: Chinese tennis star again denies sex assault in interview

Image source, Reuters

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has again denied alleging sexual assault, in her first interview with Western media since she accused a top Chinese party leader of coercing her into sex.

Ms Peng spoke to French newspaper L’Equipe at the Winter Olympics in Beijing on Sunday.

She sparked global concern last year when she disappeared from public view for a few weeks after posting online.

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She has since dismissed the concerns and says she is living a normal life.

In the interview on Sunday, Ms Peng said she was thankful for the concern from fans and other tennis players who mounted a #WhereIsPengShuai social media campaign, but said: “I didn’t think there would be such concern and I would like to know: why such concern?

“I never said anyone sexually assaulted me.”

The 36-year-old said she never “disappeared”, but had been contacted by so many people after her social media post that it was “impossible” for her to reply to everyone. She said she had chosen to delete the post soon after publication.

“This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope that the meaning of this post will no longer be distorted. And I also hope that we don’t add more hype to this.”

In her original note, which was posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo in November, she accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

The 1,600-word note, addressed to Mr Zhang, claimed they had had a romantic relationship and that he had also coerced her into having sex. “Why did you come back and seek me out, take me to your home, and force me to have sex with you,” read one line.

The post was swiftly scrubbed from Weibo, but not before it quickly went viral.

Ms Peng then vanished from public life for weeks, sparking global concern for her safety. A #WhereIsPengShuai campaign was launched, fuelled by calls from other tennis stars including Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic.

The Women’s Tennis Association has spearheaded calls for an investigation into her initial claims.

However the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was one of the first authorities to vouch for Ms Peng’s welfare with President Thomas Bach holding a video meeting with her a few weeks after her post.

On Saturday, she also met the IOC president in a face-to-face dinner at the Olympic Club in Beijing.

The IOC said Ms Peng had later attended some Winter Games events.

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