Peng Shuai says the allegation was “a huge misunderstanding”

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FILE – China’s Peng Shuai serves to Japan’s Nao Hibino during their Australian Open tennis first round singles match in Melbourne, Australia January 21, 2020. Peng’s fate remains a pressing issue at the Games Beijing Olympics. Peng’s sexual assault accusations months ago against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, once a member of the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, were almost immediately scrubbed from the internet in China. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai told a French newspaper that international concern over her well-being was based on “a huge misunderstanding” and she denied accusing a Chinese official of sexual assault.

L’Equipe, which specializes in sports news, published the interview on Monday. The publication said it spoke to the tennis player a day earlier at a Beijing hotel during an hour-long interview hosted by the Chinese Olympic committee.

Also on Monday, the International Olympic Committee released a statement saying IOC President Thomas Bach had dinner with Peng on Saturday and that she attended the China-Norway curling match with IOC member Kirsty Coventry.

The newspaper said it had to submit questions in advance, and a Chinese Olympic committee official participated in the discussion and translated his comments from Chinese.

The newspaper published his comments verbatim – which he said was another prerequisite for the interview – in Q&A form.

L’Equipe asked Peng about a post in November on his verified account on a major Chinese social media platform, Weibo, that sparked a storm of international concern about him.

In the post, Peng wrote that Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier and a member of the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, forced her to have sex despite repeated refusals. Her message also stated that they had sex once seven years ago and that she had feelings for him after that.

Peng briefly disappeared from public view, then appeared in some promotional appearances arranged by the government. The interview with L’Equipe was his first discussion with non-Chinese media since the indictment.

But speaking to L’Equipe, Peng denied accusing Zhang of assault.

“A sexual assault? I never said someone sexually assaulted me,” she told the newspaper.

“This message has caused a huge misunderstanding from the outside world,” she also said. “My wish is that the meaning of this message is no longer biased.”

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