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 women’s final day 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 on Tuesday said that they would be allowed as long as fans wearing them were not disruptive.
“Some people say it’s a victory that we’ve achieved that they’ve rolled back on the ban,” Australian-born Max Mok, who was raised in Hong Kong, told Reuters as he handed out the shirt.
“I think it’s marginal … we don’t really know where Peng Shuai is still. There’s still a long way to go.”
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.Last month Peng said she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that her social media post had been misunderstood.
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.Chris Lee, also handing out the T-shirts, said that although Peng has made appearances in controlled situations since her allegations, he was still concerned about her welfare.
“It’s not okay for us to just sitting here and we do nothing,” he told Reuters.
“At least, we have to raise the awareness of the whole society about the human rights issues in China.”
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 that 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 U.S. Open … We get this message everywhere,” he said.