Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has appeared in public at the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Peng attended Monday’s mixed curling match between China and Norway followed by the figure skating team event.
This followed an interview in which she said she never accused anyone of sexual assault, adding that she herself had deleted her social media post in November that had appeared to make such a claim.
In the interview with French newspaper L’Equipe at a hotel in Beijing, Peng denied making such allegations.
“In the text we could see in Europe, you accused someone of sexual assault. What did you really write? We don’t understand,” asked the paper.
“Sexual assault? I never said anyone had sexually assaulted me in any way,” Peng, without elaborating, said.
L’Equipe had been asked to submit questions in advance – though others were also asked – and a Chinese Olympic official attended. Publication was in verbatim question-and-answer form – also a pre-condition.
The wellbeing of Peng, a three-time Olympian, became a matter of concern when she appeared to allege on social media that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her in the past.
Peng told the French media outlet it had caused a “huge misunderstanding”, repeating comments reported by a Singapore media outlet in December, and that she did not want “any further media hype” about it.
She also sought to allay fears over her safety, saying her life since November had been “nothing special” and denying she had “disappeared” after the furore when she was not seen in public for weeks.
The 36-year-old Peng thanked fellow tennis professionals, sporting personalities and the wider community for showing concern about her welfare but maintained there was no need to worry.
In her now-deleted post on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, Peng had written “why did you take me to your house and force me into having relations with you?”, though she also described the relationship with Zhang as an on-off one that was also consensual.
It led the Women’s Tennis Association to suspend tournaments in China and caused an international outcry about her safety.
Peng has not updated her Weibo account since the post was removed.
The L’Equipe interview was released at the same time as a statement by the International Olympic Committee, which confirmed Peng had dinner on Saturday with its president Thomas Bach and the former chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, Kirsty Coventry.
“During the dinner, the three spoke about their common experience as athletes at the Olympic Games, and Peng Shuai spoke of her disappointment at not being able to qualify for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020,” the IOC said.
“In this context, she also shared her intention to travel to Europe when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, and the IOC president invited her to Lausanne to visit the IOC and The Olympic Museum, to continue the conversation on their Olympic experiences. Peng Shuai accepted this invitation.”
Speaking in his daily Olympic press conference, IOC spokesman Mark Adams would not say whether the IOC believes Peng is speaking freely or is under duress
“We are a sporting organisation, and our job is to remain in contact with her and, as we’ve explained in the past, to carry out personal and quiet diplomacy, to keep in touch with her, as we’ve done,” he said. “I don’t think it’s for us to be able to to judge, in one way, just as it’s not for you to judge either.”
With PA, AP.