Peng Shuai Gives Strange Interview at Olympics

Chinese tennis player says she doesn't understand why everyone was so worried
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 7, 2022 2:39 AM CST
Peng Shuai in Olympics Interview: 'Enormous Misunderstanding'
China's Peng Shuai serves to Japan's Nao Hibino during their first round singles match at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 21, 2020.   (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

(Newser) – Nothing to see here, move on. That was the message that Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai delivered Monday in a controlled interview in Beijing that touched on sexual assault allegations she made against a former high-ranking member of China's ruling Communist Party. Her answers—delivered in front of a Chinese Olympic official—left unanswered questions about her well-being and what exactly happened, the AP reports. The interview with French sports newspaper L'Equipe and an announcement that International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach met Peng for dinner this weekend seemed aimed at defusing sustained international concerns about the three-time Olympian and former No. 1-ranked tennis doubles player. Those concerns have threatened to overshadow the Winter Olympics underway in Beijing.

Peng told L'Equipe that the concerns were the result of “an enormous misunderstanding.” But the format of the interview appeared to allow for no sustained follow-ups, with questions submitted in advance and a Chinese Olympic committee official sitting in on the discussion, translating Peng’s comments from Chinese. Large parts of the hour-long interview, conducted Sunday in a Beijing hotel and organized through China’s Olympic committee with the IOC's help, focused on Peng's playing career. At age 36, and after multiple knee surgeries, Peng said she couldn't envisage a return to tour-level professional tennis. She hasn't played on the women's tour since February 2020. The newspaper published her comments verbatim—which it said was another pre-condition for the interview—in question-and-answer form. Photos of Peng during the interview showed her wearing a red tracksuit top with “China” in Chinese characters on the front.

L’Equipe asked Peng about the sexual assault allegations that sparked the controversy in November, and she walked back the original post. “Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” the newspaper quoted her as saying. “This post resulted in an enormous misunderstanding from the outside world,” she also said. “My wish is that the meaning of this post no longer be skewed.” Asked by L’Equipe why the post disappeared from Peng’s account, she said: “I erased it. Why? Because I wanted to." She did not reply directly to a question about whether she has been in trouble with Chinese authorities since the post. Instead, she responded with a pat-sounding answer that echoed views often expressed by the Chinese government about sport and politics. Asked what her life has been like since the November posting, she replied: “It is as it should be: Nothing special.”

(Read more Peng Shuai stories.)

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