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

The T-shirts highlight concerns about the well-being of the Chinese tennis player, who was absent from public opinion for three weeks last year after claiming that China’s former deputy prime minister had sexually assaulted her.

Activists took full advantage of the lifting of an earlier ban by handing out hundreds of T-shirts bearing the question “Where is Peng Shuai?” On the day of the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday.

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

“We distributed hundreds of T-shirts for free and there are many people who go to the finals with these T-shirts. They are excited, “Drew Paulo, one of the organizers of the protest, told AFP.

Pavlou said all the T-shirts were handed out to those present when they climbed into the park, hoping to spread the message on screens around the world during the final.

“We just want Peng Shuai to be able to speak freely. We want her to be able to travel outside China and talk to the press without Chinese government officials controlling it.

Peng, the world’s number one former toy couple, caused concern in November when she claimed on social media that former Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli had sexually raped her.

After that post, Peng was out of the public eye for nearly three weeks.

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

In late December, after Peng reappeared in public, she denied making the charge in Singaporean Chinese Lianhe Zaobao.

“I would like to emphasize a very important point: I have never said or written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” said the 35-year-old man in footage apparently taken on the phone at a sporting event in Shanghai.

Zhang did not comment on the issue, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry, when asked about the T-shirts, condemned what they described as efforts to politicize the sport.

Fans “attract attention”

Fans were later spotted wearing T-shirts in the crowd at Rod Laver Arena when Ash Barty became the first home champion in a single Grand Slam since 1978.

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

“I talked to people like our family who were here today who didn’t know anything about it until we put on those T-shirts,” she said.

“So we basically got it to draw attention to ordinary Melbourne residents or Australians.”

Mock said the campaign would not end after the Australian Open.

“The next stop for this movement is the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open… We are getting this message everywhere,” he said.

Zhang’s name appeared in Chinese media on Saturday for the first time since the indictment, in a report by the state-run Xinhua news agency, which named him among more than 100 retired senior leaders who received congratulatory congratulations from the current Chinese leadership.

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