Peng Shuai interview doesn’t allay ‘WTA’s significant concerns’ over her safety

The WTA continues to demand more evidence of Peng Shuai 's freedom and wellbeing despite the Chinese tennis star's first interview with foreign media since her disappearance from the public eye last month.

The former world number one doubles player posted on social media site Weibo at the beginning of November, accusing former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Zhang has not commented publicly on the allegation.

That post was quickly scrubbed from the internet, and Peng was not seen for almost two weeks – sparking worldwide concern for her safety.

After a period of refusing to assess the situation, Chinese state media released several photos and videos supposedly showing the 35-year-old to be safe and well.

She has also spoken via video call with IOC president Thomas Bach on two separate occasions, and arranged to meet in person in the New Year.

But in Peng's latest public 'appearance' – an interview with Singaporean news outlet Lianhe Zaobao while skiing in Shanghai – she contradicted her earlier allegations and claimed she had never accused Zhang of sexual assault.

"First, I need to stress one point that is extremely important – I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me, I have to clearly stress this point," she said in a video.

Peng made no mention of Zhang in her interview and described the social media post as a "private matter", adding: "I've always been very free."

Despite Peng's latest public appearance and apparent retraction of her allegations, the WTA remains far from satisfied that the matter is settled.

"We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern," the body said in a statement.

The WTA, which suspended all tournaments in China over the matter, added: "It was again good to see Peng Shuai in a public setting and we certainly hope she is doing well.

"As we have consistently stated, these appearances do not alleviate or address the WTA’s significant concerns about her wellbeing and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion."

The video also did little to address the concerns of welfare groups who have been following the situation.

Yaqiu Wang from Human Rights Watch tweeted sarcastically: "Wow, so natural, very real, everyone now believes it. Congratulations, the CCP!"

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