Peng Shuai, the Chinese tennis star who took to social media last month to accuse a former top Communist Party official of sexual assault insisted in an interview on Sunday that it had all been a misunderstanding.
Peng, a former No. 1-ranked player in women’s doubles who won titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, dropped out of sight for weeks after her Nov. 2 posting, which was quickly removed, describing how she says former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sexual relations.
“First and foremost, I must emphasize something. I have never said or wrote about anyone sexually assaulting me. That’s a very important point,” Peng told Lianhe Zaobao, a Singapore-based Chinese-language newspaper.
She called the events a “private matter” and said without elaborating that “people have many misunderstandings” about her original post.
The statements are in stark contrast to her original accusation describing an incident a decade ago when she was in her 20s and Zhang would have been in his mid-60s. Cornered in a room with Zhang, she said she “never gave consent” to intercourse and was “crying the entire time.”
She said she later willingly entered into an affair with Zhang, who is married.
The original accusation and her subsequent disappearance has raised concerns for her well-being, with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and Amnesty International both taking up her cause.
In an email attributed to Peng that was published by China’s state-run CGTN a few weeks after her post was deleted, she purportedly tells WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon that the allegations of sexual assault are “not true” and that she is “not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine.”
The WTA, which announced earlier this month that it was suspending all tournaments in China as a result of Beijing’s attempt to censor Peng, has called for “a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault.”
“It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well,” the WTA said in a statement, according to Reuters.
“As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” it said.
“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,” it added.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Morning Edition live blog.