At the beginning of November, in a message published on the Chinese social network Weibo, which had quickly disappeared, Peng Shuai had described a sincere but thwarted sentimental relationship with the former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.
The player mentioned in particular a “forced” sex with Mr. Zhang, married and 40 years his senior, before and after he occupies high office at the top of the communist regime.
Zhang Gaoli was from 2013 to 2018 one of the seven most powerful politicians in China.
The message was promptly erased by Chinese censorship and the former world No. 1 in doubles did not appear in public for several weeks, causing concern in the world of sport, the UN and several countries including the United States and France.
As international pressure increased on China, Chinese journalists tried to reassure by posting images of Peng Shuai.
A copy of an e-mail attributed to the player saying “everything is fine” had also been made public.
But the authenticity of the documents had left the WTA skeptical.
And the organization had canceled all its tournaments in China in early December, calling for a transparent investigation into the charges of alleged rape of Peng Shuai.
For her first public speech since the affair, the player refuted any sexual assault.
“First, I want to stress a very important point: I never said or wrote that someone sexually assaulted me,” Peng Shuai told Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language daily but inaccessible. in China, on the sidelines of a sporting event in Shanghai on Sunday.
There has been “a lot of misunderstanding” about a “private” matter, added the champion, wearing a red t-shirt and black jacket, during an interview filmed on a cell phone.
A Chinese reporter for the nationalist daily Global Times previously posted a new video of the player on Twitter.
The seven-second streak showed the former world No. 1 in doubles chatting with former basketball star Yao Ming.
Twitter is a blocked social network in China and only people with VPN-like bypass software can access it.
In recent years, however, many Chinese diplomats and official media have created accounts there to defend, sometimes doggedly, China’s point of view.
The WTA on Monday reiterated its “concern” over Peng Shuai.
“These (public) appearances do not allay the WTA’s concerns about its well-being and its ability to communicate without censorship or coercion,” the organization said in a statement.
In early December, the WTA had canceled all its tournaments in China and called for a transparent investigation into the player’s accusations.
The authority then explained to take this initiative because, according to its president Steve Simon, of persistent “serious doubts” as to the freedom of movement of the player.
Peng Shuai assured Lianhe Zaobao newspaper on Sunday that she was free.
From the start, the case has been completely glossed over in the Chinese media. And the censors are redoubling their efforts to erase any allusion to the scandal on social networks.
The majority of Chinese are therefore not aware of the scandal and the various twists and turns of the affair, especially since most foreign media websites are blocked in China.
But information still circulates via private messaging and word of mouth.
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Peng Shuai emerges from silence, WTA reaffirms concern