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Chinese Tennis Star Peng Shuai Denies Making Sexual-Assault Accusations


HONG KONG—Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denied accusing anyone of sexual assault, suggesting a global wave of concern for her safety and wellbeing was the result of misunderstandings.

“I’ve never claimed, or written about anyone having sexually assaulted me. This is very important and needs to be clear,” said Ms. Peng in a six-minute video interview with Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language publication run by state-controlled

Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.

, that was posted online Sunday.

“There’s been a lot of misunderstanding,” Ms. Peng said in the interview, describing the situation as touching on “my personal privacy.”

“There shouldn’t be any distorted interpretations,” she said.

China’s Peng Shuai in Melbourne, Australia, last year.



Photo:

Andy Brownbill/Associated Press

Her words follow a Nov. 2 post that appeared on Ms. Peng’s verified social-media account, which described an on-and-off relationship with former Chinese Vice Premier

Zhang Gaoli

that lasted for some years, and was sometimes consensual and sometimes involved coercion. The post alleged that in one instance Mr. Zhang forced Ms. Peng to have sex with him, but it didn’t use the Chinese term for sexual assault to describe the encounter.

The Nov. 2 post disappeared after about 20 minutes. Although Ms. Peng’s social-media account remains online, its commenting function has been disabled and her name is blocked in searches.

Ms. Peng’s interview hasn’t eased concerns about her, the Women’s Tennis Association said.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault,” the organization said.

Some international tennis stars also said they were unconvinced by the video. “Total and utter BS,” 18-time Grand Slam champion

Martina Navratilova

wrote on a

Twitter

in response to the video.

“This is… unsettling…,”

Chris Evert,

another winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, wrote in her own response on Twitter.

The Weibo post initially placed Ms. Peng at the center of a media storm. Attention expanded nearly two weeks later on Nov. 14, when

Steve Simon,

chairman of the WTA, said the organization hadn’t been able to reach Ms. Peng after repeated attempts, and he called for an investigation into her allegation.

In the interview published Sunday, Ms. Peng said she personally wrote an email in Chinese to Mr. Simon. She added that an English-language version published on Nov. 17 by China’s state-run broadcaster CGTN, saying that the sexual-assault allegation was untrue and that “everything is fine,” was a translation.

“In terms of meaning and the information in it, there is no difference,” she said of the two versions.

Mr. Simon said at the time it was sent that the email raised more concerns about her safety and whereabouts. Fellow tennis stars, including

Naomi Osaka

and

Serena Williams,

posted messages of concern for her, using the Twitter hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.

The incident also unleashed a global storm of suspicion about Ms. Peng’s health and safety. Mr. Simon said international pressure could help clarify the situation and protect Ms Peng. As a result, the WTA announced its suspension of future tournaments in China earlier this month. Human-rights organizations called for a boycott of the Winter Olympics, which are set to begin in Beijing in February, pointing to China’s human-rights record and insisting that Ms. Peng is not genuinely free.

Representatives of China’s Foreign Ministry have said they are unaware of Ms. Peng’s allegations. Questions and answers about Ms. Peng have been omitted from official daily transcripts published by the ministry. On China’s tightly regulated internet, discussions of Ms. Peng’s situation have been muted.

The Foreign Ministry has protested what it says are attempts to politicize the 2022 Olympic Games.

Ms. Peng’s interview came hours after Chen Qingqing, a journalist at the nationalist state-owned Global Times, posted a seven-second video clip on Twitter—which is blocked in China—showing Ms. Peng with retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, who is now chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association.

Ms. Chen wrote that she had received the video from a friend and that it had been taken on Sunday morning during the International Ski Federation’s Cross-Country Skiing China City Tour in Shanghai, the same event at which Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao interviewed Ms. Peng.

The tennis player, sporting a black down jacket and a red T-shirt emblazoned with the characters for China, also said to the reporter from Lianhe Zaobao that she had been living freely.

“Why would I be under surveillance? I’ve always been very free,” Ms. Peng said.

Asked about two video calls, the International Olympic Committee said it had with her in late November and early December, Ms. Peng confirmed that the first one took place at her home and said she was grateful to IOC President

Thomas Bach

and IOC Athletes’ Commission Chairwoman

Emma Terho,

who conducted the call with her.

The first call with the IOC occurred hours after Ms. Peng appeared at Beijing’s National Tennis Center and in footage seen on social media of her having a meal at a restaurant.

At the time, the IOC said that Ms. Peng was safe at home in Beijing and that she had asked for her privacy to be respected, without directly addressing the sexual-assault allegations.

On Sunday, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Ding Li, one of the people who had earlier shared photos of the meal with Ms. Peng, posted a series of photos of the tennis player with various people, including Mr. Yao. Mr. Ding didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Yao didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment submitted to his foundation.

On Nov. 26, the account also posted a screenshot of an email dated Nov. 22, signed with Ms. Peng’s name and addressed to a Mr. Simon, saying she had sent an email to him and three other people on Nov. 17. The email also said she hoped people wouldn’t sensationalize her private business.

When asked about her plans to travel abroad, Ms. Peng said in her interview: “If you want me to go abroad and watch a tournament, that would be normal. But you can’t say I should go abroad to prove something. What would I be doing by going abroad, tell me.”

Write to Sha Hua at sha.hua@wsj.com

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