Tennis fans at the Australian Open were asked by tournament security to remove T-shirts bearing the words “Where is Peng Shuai?” in reference to uncertainty surrounding the tennis player.
Tennis Australia, the Grand Slam tournament’s organizer, expressed support for Peng, who accused a former senior Chinese official of sexual assault last fall, but said the material violated rules aimed at keeping political and commercial statements away from Mebourne Park, site of the tournament.
Drew Pavlou, a Queensland-based, Australian Senate candidate, had tweeted video of actor Max Mok and another spectator being confronted by Tennis Australia and Victorian police Saturday. They were asking them to remove T-shirts that featured a photo of Peng and the word “Wanted” on the front and “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson told multiple outlets.
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being.”
An officer can be seen in the video holding a banner bearing the same message and saying, “Tennis Australia does set the rules, and regardless of what you’re saying — and I’m not saying you can’t have those views — but I am saying that Tennis Australia sets the rules here.”
One of the Open’s major partners is Guojiao 1573, a Chinese liquor, and Tennis Australia has had little comment on Peng, who disappeared from public view for nearly three months after she alleged on Weibo that Zhang Gaoli, the former vice-premier, had sexually assaulted her. China’s heavily censored Internet quickly deleted the post.
In support, Steve Simon, chairman and chief executive of the WTA, announced that it would hold no tournaments in China this year, with Simon saying it would make the costly decision to put “principles ahead of profit.”
“I have never said or written that anyone has sexually assaulted me. I have to stress this point,” Peng told a reporter from Singapore’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper, in her first direct comments to journalists since she posted explosive claims in November and disappeared from public view, emerging only in carefully curated appearances amplified by Chinese state outlets.
“People seemed to have made a lot of misinterpretations,” she said, confirming for the first time the authenticity of the post on her Weibo profile, and appearing to laugh off the controversy. In the short video interview, she referred to the contents of the statement as “a private matter.”
Last week, Yao Ming, the former NBA star, said he and Chinese sports figures had “a pleasant chat” when they visited with Peng in December, posing for photos that were posted on social media in what appeared to be a campaign in response to international demands that Peng be allowed to talk freely. He added that he has known Peng for about 20 years (via the Associated Press).
Victoria Azarenka, a member of the WTA Players Council, told reporters last week that the group had not heard directly from Peng, who was formerly ranked 14th in the world in singles and was part of a doubles team once ranked No. 1.
“There hasn’t been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable,” Azarenka said. “Hopefully we will get to hear from her personally at some point. I think that’s the goal, the main goal right now.”
Mok and Pavlou raised nearly $7,000 after the incident, according to The Age, and plan to use the money to print T-shirts to distribute before the Australian Open women’s final despite the ban.
“Regardless, it will be a good message to send not just to Australia, but internationally,” Mok said. “Imagine a whole court filled with ‘Free Peng Shuai’ shirts?”