Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has broken her silence to international media, insisting she wasn't sexually assaulted and she never disappeared.
The 36-year-old's wellbeing and status has become an international incident over the past three months after she made a social media post that accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her in 2017.
After the post was removed from social media within an hour, Shuai was not seen in public for weeks, prompting the tennis community and fans to express concerns for her welfare, while the WTA canceled tournaments in China and some countries refused to send diplomats to the Beijing 2022 Olympics.
While Peng has been heard from in recent times, it has been suggested that her words and statements had been influenced by Chinese authorities.
However, Peng has now given an interview to French publisher L'Equipe, where she denies ever being assaulted or having disappeared.
It is the second time Peng has publicly retracted the initial allegations she made.
"First of all, I would like to thank all the ATP and WTA players, all the athletes and all the personalities in large numbers who cared about me," she said from Beijing, with Chinese Olympic Committee chief of staff Wang Kan beside her.
"But I didn’t think there would be such concern and I would like to know: Why such concern?"
"I never said anyone sexually assaulted me in any way.
"I never disappeared, everyone could see me. It's just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the IOC, messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages.
"But with my close friends, I always remained in close contact. I discussed with them, answered their emails, I also discussed with the WTA.
"But, at the end of the year, their website’s communication computer was changed and many players had difficulty logging in at that time.
"But we always kept in touch with colleagues. That’s why I don’t know why the information that I had disappeared, spread.
"This post has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world. I hope that we no longer distort the meaning of this post. And I also hope that we don’t add more hype on this."
Peng hasn't played in a tournament since the Qatar Total Open in February 2020. She was once ranked as high as 14th in the world in singles and No. 1 in doubles, winning two Grand Slam events in doubles.