Our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai: WTA chief

WTA stand firm on their position on Peng Shuai, say their thoughts remain with her despite her latest interview denying charges against Zhang Gaoli

WTA want a private meeting with Peng Shuai before returning to China

The WTA said their thoughts remained with Peng Shuai despite the Chinese player stating that she was leading a ‘normal life’ in the latest interview.

French newspaper L’Equipe interviewed the Chinese player in Beijing, but under controlled conditions.

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On November 2, Peng had published a post on Chinese social platform Weibo where she accused former Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

The post was shared widely on Chinese social media before it was removed less than an hour after publication.

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The Chinese player disappeared from public view for a while, prompting the tennis world’s concern.

The WTA was unable to get in touch with her, but Peng appeared on a video interview with International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach.

Why such concern?

Peng told L’Equipe that she was grateful for the concern directed towards her.

“I would like to know: why such concern?… I never said anyone sexually assaulted me,” she said.

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The publication said it spoke to the tennis player a day earlier in a Beijing hotel in an hour-long interview organized through China’s Olympic committee.

L’Equipe said it had to submit questions in advance and that a Chinese Olympic committee official sat in on the discussion and translated Peng’s comments from Chinese.

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The newspaper published her comments verbatim – which it said was another pre-condition for interview – in question-and-answer form.

Photos of Peng during the interview showed her wearing a red track-suit top with “China” in Chinese characters on the front.

‘Enormous misunderstanding’

Peng also denied having accused Zhang of assault.

“Sexual assault? I never said that anyone made me submit to a sexual assault,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

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“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.”

The lengthy post quickly disappeared from Peng’s account. Asked why by L’Equipe, she said: “I erased it.”

“Why? Because I wanted to,” she added.

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In the interview, Peng 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.

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“I was to say first of all that emotions, sport and politics are three clearly separate things,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

“My romantic problems, my private life, should not be mixed with sport and politics.”

Still concerned

The WTA relased a statement later on Monday saying they were still concerned about her well-being.

“Her recent in-person interview does not alleviate any of our concerns about her initial post from November 2nd,” WTA chief Steve Simon stated.

“To reiterate our view, Peng took a bold step in publicly coming forth with the accusation that she was sexually assaulted by a senior Chinese government leader.

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“As we would do with any of our players globally, we have called for a formal investigation into the allegations by the appropriate authorities and an opportunity for the WTA to meet with Peng – privately – to discuss her situation.

“We continue to hold firm on our position and our thoughts remain with Peng Shuai.”