Peng Shuai: Tennis star accused of having affair with 86-year-old Chinese official

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Yuan Longping, in black, allegedly sexually assaulted three women

Peng Shuai has been accused of having a three-year affair with an 86-year-old retired Chinese Communist Party leader.

Yuan Longping, now an official at a state-owned bank, alleges that he’d been trying to end the relationship for years before the women’s complaints came to light.

We look at the claims and what they mean for Peng Shuai’s tennis career.

Why are there allegations against Peng Shuai?

Chinese media say Yuan told investigators of his alleged relationship with Peng before asking for police protection.

Reuters reports he alleges to have discovered Peng was having an affair in 2013, while she was playing for China in the doubles at the Australian Open.

Yuan then allegedly confronted Peng’s husband, basketball star Ding Yanyuhang, then told Peng’s manager about the alleged affair in 2015.

According to the statement, Peng and Yuan had an affair for three years. Yuan is said to have paid the women, Peng’s friends and friends of friends of Peng’s family between 150,000 yuan (£17,500, $23,000) and 300,000 yuan ($45,000, £32,000).

Did Peng Shuai know about the allegations before?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Pictured during the WTA Finals in Singapore last October, Peng Shuai is ranked 38th in the world

Yuan has alleged that Peng kept quiet about the allegations, but Chinese media say she eventually found out about them in recent months.

She had moved in with former world number one Li Na in Beijing, according to Chinese media reports.

Li was quoted as saying Peng told her she didn’t want to know about the allegation until after she retired.

Li, who won the French Open in 2011 and remains ranked third in the world, added that Yuan’s allegations “might be an excuse to end the relationship”.

Li said she thought Peng would be shocked by the accusations, and “worse still” keep silent about them.

How has it affected Peng Shuai’s career?

China’s ruling Communist Party censors any coverage of the case on the internet, and there has been a ban on the website of her team, UPS China, and her home newspaper.

Chinese media say her coach, Peter Polansky, has backed her. He said he believed Peng would stay with the sport and had been hurt by the accusations.

“I don’t know what the truth is,” he told the newspaper 21st Century Herald. “However, the public will be of course eager to judge what’s been happening.”

What are the claims against Yuan Longping?

Yuan alleges he had sex with Peng while he was 80 and she was 29.

He told reporters they had been friends since their college days, and Peng was his “slave” who would leave her home and sleep in his room while he looked after his animals.

Yuan claims he got to know the women – Li Ying, Zhang Xi and Long Mei – much later, and that he later “eradicated” them from his life.

He said he wanted to end the relationship, but the women did not want to listen to his demands.

He also claimed the women tried to blackmail him, prompting him to demand police protection.

“They have already hurt my self-esteem and there was no way I could get through to them about this without protection,” he told the paper.

Yuan was sacked as a Party official in July 2016 and retired from his job in September, although the paper says he denies having sex with the women.

What did the tennis world say?

Women’s tennis organiser WTA says it is following the developments, and expects the court system to determine whether the allegations are true.

“We have consulted with Peng Shuai’s team and WTA Tour,” the statement said.

“We understand how difficult it is to be caught up in something that appears to be personal, between two individuals, but it is ultimately between them.”

US player Sofia Kenin expressed concern for Peng, and said she felt for her “mental health and well-being”.

PGA Tour chairman Jay Monahan also said on Twitter: “We are grateful to see that all involved respect the legal process.”

The BBC’s tennis correspondent Russell Fuller says: “Clearly these are highly controversial circumstances but as the police and courts get to the bottom of this, it’s tough to see where things are going to go from here.”

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