Tennis: Peng Shuai T-shirt campaign resumes at Australian Open

The T-shirts highlight concerns about the wellbeing of the Chinese tennis player, who was absent from public view for three weeks last year after she alleged that a former Chinese vice premier sexually assaulted her.

Supporters of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai hold up their T-shirts
Supporters of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai hold up their T-shirts as they enter Melbourne Park before the women's final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, January 29, 2022. Peng, the former number one doubles player who won titles at Wimbledon and the French Open, dropped out of public view in November after accusing a former high-ranking Chinese government official, vice premier Zhang Gaoli, of sexual assault [Tertius Pickard/AP Photo]

Activists made the most of the reversal of an earlier ban by giving away hundreds of T-shirts bearing the question “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the day of women’s final at the Australian Open on Saturday.

The T-shirts, highlighting concerns about the Chinese tennis player, were confiscated by security last weekend, but tournament chief Craig Tiley said on Tuesday that they would be allowed as long as fans wearing them were not disruptive.

“We’ve handed out hundreds of T-shirts now for free and there’s a lot of people going to the final wearing these shirts. They’re excited,” Drew Pavlou, one of the protest organisers, told the AFP news agency.

Pavlou said all the T-shirts had been handed to attendees as they filed into the park, in the hope of beaming the message onto screens around the world during the final.

“We just want Peng Shuai to be able to speak freely. We want for her to be able to travel outside China and speak to the press without Chinese government minders controlling that.”

Peng, a former world number one doubles player, became a matter of concern in November when she alleged on social media that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her.

After that post, Peng was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.

China's Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan's Nao Hibino
China’s Peng Shuai in action during the match against Japan’s Nao Hibino [File: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

In late December, after Peng had reappeared in public, she denied making the allegation to Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.

“I would like to stress a very important point: I have never said nor written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” the 35-year-old said in footage apparently filmed on a phone at a sport event in Shanghai.

Zhang has not commented on the matter and the Chinese foreign ministry, when asked about the T-shirts, condemned what they described as efforts to politicise sport.

Fans ‘bring attention’

Fans were later seen wearing the T-shirts in the crowd on Rod Laver Arena as Ash Barty became the first homegrown singles champion at the Grand Slam since 1978.

One of the 20,086 fans at Melbourne Park on Saturday, Sadie Holland, said she was wearing a T-shirt to raise awareness.

“I have spoken to people, like our family who were here today, who didn’t know anything about it until we wore these T-shirts,” she said.

“So that’s why we basically got it, to bring attention to the ordinary Melburnians or Australians.”

Mok said the campaign would not be ending after the Australian Open.

“The next stop for this movement is the French Open, it’s Wimbledon and it’s the US Open … We get this message everywhere,” he said.

Zhang’s name appeared in Chinese media on Saturday for the first time since the allegation, in a report by state news agency Xinhua which listed him as among the more than 100 retired senior leaders who received festive greetings from the current Chinese leadership.

Source: News Agencies