Four activists wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” t-shirts at Wimbledon reported that they were accosted by “suspicious” security personnel due to the apparel.
The group said they entered the championships via the queue but only wore the t-shirts to raise awareness for Peng Shuai after entering the grounds.
Who is Peng Shuai? What happened to her?
Wimbledon has received a backlash after appearing to censor activism for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after her sudden disappearance from the public eye.
The three-time Olympian became the subject of global concern last year in November when she reported Zhang Gaoli, a former high-ranking Chinese government official, for sexually assaulting her.
She wrote this on the Chinese online platform Weibo, but due to the China’s strict censorship policies the post was immediately wiped from the internet.
Afterwards, Peng was not heard from for weeks, and concerns for her safety rapidly grew.
Following multiple PR moves by Chinese state media to present the wellbeing of Peng, including an “email from Peng Shuai” which investigators worldwide deemed false, the likelihood of Peng being another of China’s high-profile disappearances suddenly became apparent.
She has since been suspected of being held under detention and surveillance in the authoritarian state and has retracted her former accusation.
Activists worldwide have suggested this is due to intimidation from her home country’s government, the CCP.
In the words of the Women’s Tennis Association’s CEO, Steve Simon, China “failed to verifiably prove Peng’s safety and fully investigate her sexual assault allegations.”
What happened to the Peng Shuai activists at Wimbledon?
Once inside the All England Club, security confronted the group and searched their bags, despite reports of behaviour necessitating it.
Free Tibet campaigner Will Hoyles, 39, said they were quickly confronted by “suspicious” security staff at the Wimbledon grounds.
Hoyles revealed why they wore the t-shirts while speaking to the PA news agency: “We came trying to raise a bit of awareness but Wimbledon have managed to make it worse for themselves by harassing us.
“They were asking loads of questions about what we were going to do, why we were here, what we’d already done etc.
“And we told them we’d just been wandering around and we’d spoken to a few people and that’s when they seemed to get quite suspicious.”
Hoyles continued in revealing that the staff stated they “should not approach anyone to talk to them” and the “club doesn’t like to be political.”
In response, Hoyles said: “We said to them, we don’t believe the message is political because we are simply asking where a tennis player is, where a Wimbledon champion is.”
The security staff disagreed and asked if they had any other plans before searching their personal belongings for banners or flags, according to Hoyles.
In response to the incident, an All England Club spokesperson issued this statement: “We can confirm that four guests were approached today by security whilst walking outside No.1 court.
“These individuals are now enjoying their day with us and continue to be able to wear their t-shirts.
“Like much of the tennis community and people around the world more broadly, we remain very concerned for Peng Shuai and we continue to support the WTA’s efforts."
Is this the first controversy surrounding Peng Shuai activism?
Earlier in 2022, Tennis Australia officials sparked controversy at their first grand slam after a spectator was forced to remove a banner and t-shirt referring to Peng Shuai.
A video was released from the Australian Open showing Melbourne Park security asking spectators to change their t-shirt saying “Where is Peng Shuai?”
The spectator’s banner, posing the same question, was also confiscated by security.
A Tennis Australia spokesperson said: “Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political.”
For most, however, the question is how can wanting to confirm the safety and wellbeing of a woman who disappeared publicly after a sexual assault report be “political.”
Many took to social media in speculating that the censorship was in the interests of protecting the former CCP government official, Zhang Gaoli, who stood accused.
Backlash also came from legendary tennis star Martina Navratilova who called Tennis Australia’s move “cowardly.”
Wimbledon plagued by “double standards”, says activists
Jason Leith, another activist, accused Wimbledon of double standards after they banned Belarusian and Russian players but did not condemn China’s actions.
He said: “We are banning Russian players and Belarusian players who have spoken out against the war but then there’s all these human rights abuses that the Chinese Communist Party have carried out but that’s absolutely fine.
“So it’s a double standard. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.
“It’s Wimbledon and she’s an ex-Wimbledon champion and if there’s anywhere to go and talk about this and to get that discussion brought back up again it’s going to be here.”
Similar views have been expressed by players like Scottish tennis legend Andy Murray who said he was “not supportive” of Russian and Belarusian bans.
This is especially troubling after ongoing reports of the CCP genociding muslim minorities (Uyghurs) in China, international sports committees like the IOC overlooking this is a sign of corruption, according to activists.
Regardless, many voices rallied around the activists for raising this issue on one of sport’s biggest stages.
Ben Rothenberg, a leading tennis reporter, praised their activism in light of the “silence” that followed Peng Shuai’s alarming reports.