Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied accusing anyone of sexually assaulting her, despite an earlier social media post that said a former Communist Party official had forced her into having sex.
In comments to a Singaporean newspaper on Sunday, Peng said that her post on Weibo had been misunderstood.
Peng’s interview with Lianhe Zaobao came amid increasing concern about the tennis star’s wellbeing after she appeared to allege on November 2 that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her in the past.
The post was quickly censored and Peng was absent from public view for nearly three weeks afterwards.
“First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important, I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me. I need to emphasize this point very clearly,” Peng said in the video posted by Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday.
She said the post on Weibo was “a private matter” and that “people have many misunderstandings” about what she wrote.
She did not elaborate further.
The comments on Sunday marked the first time the 35-year-old had addressed the matter on camera in public. She spoke on the sidelines of a cross-country skiing event in Shanghai that she attended.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which earlier this month said it would suspend tournaments in China immediately due to concerns about the treatment of Peng and the safety of other players, continued to call for an investigation.
“It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well,” it said in a statement.
“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.”
China has not directly commented on Peng’s initial post but said after the WTA’s move to suspend tournaments in China that it “opposes the politicization of sports”.
Zhang has not commented on the matter.
Discussion of the scandal, which emerged as Beijing prepares to stage the Winter Olympic Games in February, has been heavily censored in China.
Peng said in the Lianhe Zaobao video that she had personally written a letter last month to WTA head Steve Simon, in which she denied the allegation of assault, and that an English translation of it by Chinese state media was accurate.
Simon had said at the time that he “had a hard time believing” that Peng had actually written the email or believed what had been attributed to her.
But Peng told Lianhe Zaobao that the email was legitimate and written “entirely of my own free will”.
She also said she has been mainly staying at home in Beijing and was free to come and go as she chose.
The Lianhe Zaobao reporter did not ask how or why the lengthy and highly detailed November 2 post appeared, or whether Peng’s account had been hacked.
The newspaper’s footage on Sunday appeared to show Peng on a fifth-floor viewing balcony with athletes from various sports, including former NBA basketball star Yao Ming.
She wore a black jacket with a China flag and a red T-shirt with the characters for China.
The International Olympic Committee, which has held two video calls with Peng, has taken a different tack to the controversy than the WTA. Top officials from the sporting body say they believe Peng is fine after video chatting with her.
The controversy has added to protests over Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympic Games because of the government’s human rights abuses.