Peng Shuai reported to be retiring from tennis

Peng said that the deleted social media post she made had been misunderstood. PHOTO: REUTERS
A man reading French daily sports newspaper L'Equipe, which interviewed Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, in Paris on Feb 7, 2022 PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING - Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who last year accused a senior Chinese politician of sexual assault, on Monday (Feb 7) announced her retirement from tennis, according to media reports. 

In an interview with French sports daily L’Equipe, she denied being sexually assaulted. “Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” Peng was quoted as saying.

She made the same denial last December to Singapore daily Lianhe Zaobao when asked about the allegation.

“This post resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world,” she added. “My wish is that the meaning of this post no longer be skewed.” 

In November, Peng published a lengthy post on the Twitter-like Weibo in which she was believed to be accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her into having sex during a years-long relationship. The post was later deleted and related search terms censored. 

Asked why her original post containing the sexual assault accusation had been erased from her account, Peng said she erased it. 

“Why? Because I wanted to,” the former doubles Number One said, adding that she is retiring from tennis. 

She did not elaborate further on her retirement. 

For the hour-long interview conducted within the Olympic bubble and arranged by the China Olympic Committee, the French newspaper said it had to submit questions in advance. She was accompanied by Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan during the interview.

Following the allegations last November, Peng disappeared from view until the women’s tennis governing body, the World Tennis Association (WTA), pressed for more details of her whereabouts. The WTA also suspended tournaments in China over the event. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) later released a statement and a still photograph showing her in a video call with its President Thomas Bach but made no reference to any of the allegations. 

At the time, Bach said the Committee was pursuing “quiet diplomacy” to get to the bottom of the matter, drawing criticism that he was trying to protect the organisers of the Winter Games. 

She later made several seemingly orchestrated public appearances, including at a ski event in Shanghai where she told Lianhe Zaobao that she never said anyone sexually assaulted her in any way. 

The IOC on Monday announced that Peng met Bach for dinner over the weekend at the Olympic Club in Beijing. 

They were joined by former Chair of the Athletes’ Commission Kirsty Coventry. The statement did not address any of the allegations, simply stating that the meeting follows “a series of telephone conversations... over the past few months”. 

According to Monday’s IOC statement, Peng told Bach and Coventry of her disappointment at not qualifying for the Summer Games in Tokyo, adding that she would like to travel to Europe after the Covid-19 pandemic was over. 

“(All) three agreed that any further communication about the content of the meeting would be left to her discretion,” it said. 

During a daily news conference in Beijing on Monday, a spokesman for the IOC Mark Adams declined to say whether the committee believed Peng’s initial sexual assault claims. 

“I don’t think it’s a judgement for the IOC to make – we are a sporting organisation,” he said. “I don’t think it’s up to us to be able to judge, just as it’s not for you to judge, either, in one way or another, her position.” 

Correction note: This article has been updated for clarity.

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