Activists handing out “Where is Peng Shuai” T-shirts at the Australian Open say they will take their campaign to other grand slams and not cease until they are satisfied of the Chinese tennis player’s safety.
Seven days after a video went viral of two activists being forced to remove their T-Shirts by Melbourne Park security, the group made good on their promise to print 1,000 shirts they hoped spectators would wear inside Rod Laver Arena during the women’s singles final.
About 20 people were voluntarily stationed at each entrance, where they also distributed ribbons and stickers saying “Missing!” in Mandarin.
A few shirts could be seen dotted throughout the 80% capacity crowd during the match, with many more sporting the yellow ribbons.
“I’m just happy that people care about Peng Shuai,” said Brisbane activist Drew Pavlou, who has been driving the movement alongside Max Mok, a pro-democracy campaigner from Hong Kong.
“We’ve been posting on Twitter for six months and nothing ever really happens. Suddenly everyone is covering it, so I’m really happy about that.”
A few days after the shirts were banned and a banner was confiscated, and following an international backlash, Tennis Australia reversed its decision to prohibit them based on their claim they constituted “commercial or political” material.
“Tennis Australia never reached out to me or any of my team members, they just put out statements via the media,” Mok said. “We’ve just been trying to keep them honest. We will take this to the French Open, Wimbledon, the US Open. We will not stop.”
Mok said the sentiment at the gates had been one of mostly support. Another activist said Peter Costello, the chairman of Nine Entertainment Corporation which owns the tournament’s host broadcaster the Nine Network, declined to take a T-shirt when he entered but told them he supported their cause.
Pavlou, who was this week blocked on Twitter by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, said some of the volunteers were strangers who had approached him on social media and asked him how they could help.
Overall the group had raised more than $21,000, with which they had 1,000 T-shirts printed and thousands more ribbons made. They had hoped to spend the remaining $5,000 on hiring a plane to fly a “Where is Peng Shuai?” banner over Melbourne Park on Saturday afternoon before the match, however every company they approached declined to be involved. Pavlou said the remaining money will likely be donated to a sexual violence prevention charity.
Peng has appeared only rarely on Chinese social media since early November when her post on Weibo, in which she accused the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, was quickly deleted from China’s heavily censored internet.
In late December, Peng retracted her allegations in an interview with Singapore media outlet Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language publication under the state-controlled Singapore Press Holdings Limited.