The sports world has worried about former Chinese tennis champ Peng Shuai, who seemed to disappear from public life after accusing a top Communist party official of sexual assault. Her first interview since reemerging did little to convince anyone that she’s a free woman.
Shuai walked back her November rape claims to France’s L’Equipe newspaper in an interview that was managed down to the pre-approved questions by the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC).
“Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” she commented under the watchful eye of COC chief of staff Wang Kan, who was photographed staring at a “tense” Shuai posed a red national tracksuit.
“This post resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world, my wish is that the meaning of this post no longer be skewed,” she added. “I erased it. Why? Because I wanted to.”
Despite the hashtag “Where is Peng Shuai?” trending around the world, the three time Olympian blamed injuries for her retreat from public life.
“I would like to know: Why so much worry?” she questioned. “I never disappeared. It’s simply that many people, like my friends and among them those from the IOC, sent me messages and it was completely impossible to respond to so many messages.”
L’Equipe journalist Marc Ventouillac said that it was “impossible” to say if Shuai is free, but believes the interview was granted to try to prove that there is no controversy surrounding the tennis star.
“It’s a part of communication, propaganda, from the Chinese Olympic Committee,” Ventouillac detailed. “It’s important, I think, for the Chinese Olympic Committee, for the Communist Party and for many people in China to try to show: ‘No, there is no Peng Shuai affair.’”
Shuai has been trotted out at Olympic events, most recently attending the freeski big air competition where American defector Eileen Gu took gold for China.
“I’m really happy she was here today,” Gu said in line with COC’s narrative. “It’s a big honor. I’m grateful that she’s happy and healthy and out here doing her thing again.”
The Women’s Tennis Association said the appearances and interview “does not alleviate any of our concerns” about Shuai’s freedom.