Peng Shuai Tells Chinese-Language Newspaper She Never Said She Was Sexually Assaulted

The tennis star called her allegation against an ex-Chinese Communist Party leader a misunderstanding, but concerns about her safety remain

Peng Shuai of China celebrates a shot during the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open
Peng Shuai of China celebrates a shot during the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open.
Zhong Zhi/Getty

In a Sunday video interview that was allegedly taped at a Beijing Winter Olympics promotional event and posted by Chinese-language Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, Chinese tennis champion Peng Shuai called her previous allegation that an ex-Chinese Communist Party leader sexually assaulted her a misunderstanding.

Shuai, who made the claim against the former government leader in a November social media post that was quickly scrubbed from the internet, told Lianhe Zaobao there were “a lot of misunderstandings” about her claim.

“Even if it is like an egg hitting a rock, or if I am like a moth drawn to the flame, inviting self-destruction, I will tell the truth about you,” she wrote in the November post.

Now, after appearing in a number of videos with Chinese officials that seemed a bit fishy and may have been staged, the tennis star, who was once ranked No. 1 in doubles and as high as No. 14 in singles but has not competed on the WTA Tour since February 2020, is changing her tune, allegedly of her own free will.

“First of all, I want to emphasize something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me. I need to emphasize this point very clearly,” Shuai told the Lianhe Zaobao reporter. She also added that reports of being put on house arrest were inaccurate. “Why would someone keep watch over me?” she said. “I’ve been very free all along.”

While it’s good to see that Shuai isn’t locked up in a room somewhere, her retraction seems a bit odd and many people are not buying it.

Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter that her latest statement was “only deepening concerns about the pressure to which the Chinese government is subjecting her.”

“The Chinese government has a long history of making its critics disappear from public contact to silence them,” he added. “Tennis star Peng Shuai, after she alleged sexual assault by a senior Chinese official, is only the latest example.”

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which suspended all of its tournaments in the communist nation — including Hong Kong — over China’s handling of the situation, said it was still concerned the 35-year-old was being censored by the state.

“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 WTA said in a statement. The organization added that it welcomed Shuai’s appearing in “a public setting” but that it did not “alleviate or address concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion.”

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!