Activists concerned about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai have taken to the Australian Open ahead of Ash Barty’s final.
Shirts with the words ‘Where’s Peng Shuai?’ can be seen scattered across the crowds at Melbourne Park tonight ahead of the women’s final of the Australian Open.
It comes after a spectator was asked to remove a jersey with the same words last week due to persistent concerns for the welfare of the Chinese tennis star.
Tennis Australia told News Corp Australia that they feared for Peng’s safety, but that fans were not allowed to make political statements with their clothes at the Australian Open.
“Under our admission ticket conditions, we do not allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” said a spokesman for Tennis Australia.
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being.”
But later in the week, TA returned, saying it would take a sensible approach, while Secretary of State Marise Payne said fans could show support for Shuai, provided it was “done appropriately and does not disturb the courts themselves.”
In response, activists raised more than $ 20,000 to make shirts and hand them out Saturday night ahead of Ash Barty and Danielle Collins’ finale.
Peng, a former Wimbledon and French Open double-champion, took to Chinese social media Weibo in November last year to claim that former Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her in his house during an on-off relationship that spanned several year.
She was not heard from for several weeks, triggering fears for her well-being, and then reappeared for refusing to make the allegations of sexual assault, saying her social media posts in November were misinterpreted.
There have been calls in the industry for more transparency from Beijing about Peng’s whereabouts, with concerns that she will be censored.
The president of the Women’s Tennis Association Tour, Steve Simon, announced last month that the women’s tennis court suspended all tournaments in China due to concerns about Peng’s safety.
Tibetan human rights activist Kyinzom Dhongdue, who handed out her shirts at the gate to Melbourne Park, told news.com.au that she had flown from Sydney to Melbourne this morning to attend.
“What Tennis Australia did last week was that they were trying to censor us, trying to silence us, to silence a group of human rights activists who came here to show support for Peng Shuai,” she said.
“China has a track record of forcing its people to make allegations. Her whereabouts and her condition cannot be verified unless it is independently verified.
“If she’s okay, then why is she not able to speak freely to independent media? That’s what we’re here for. We’re worried about her.”
Three tennis fans told news.com.au that they were proud wearing the shirts and said the confrontation between security and the activist at the Australian Open last week had brought “increased awareness” of the situation.
Earlier this week, news.com.au asked Barty at a news conference if she would mind people in the crowd wearing the shirts, but she said she had not seen the incident and therefore could not respond.
news.com.au is seeking a comment from Tennis Australia on whether spectators will be asked to remove the jerseys.