MELBOURNE, Australia ( Associated Press) — Even when he’s asked “Where’s Peng Shuai?” Was being kicked out of the Australian Open for wearing a white T-shirt. Slogan in black letters, Max Mok saw an opportunity to extend a message of concern to the Grand Slam doubles champion and Olympian from China, whose well-being has come under question.
Plan of the mock: He’ll help hand out 1,000 shirts to spectators in Saturday’s women’s final between No. 1 ranked Ash Barty of Australia and Danielle Collins of America.
Yes, it’s the biggest tennis match of 2022 to date, yet no players, fans and the organization that runs the women’s professional tour around Melbourne Park are in the hearts and minds of the WTA.
“We have seen members of the tennis community supporting Peng Shuai – Naomi Osaka, and Serena Williams, among many others,” Australian Mok of Chinese heritage said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. He opened the boxes of shirts. “It’s a great opportunity to go and force[attention]into the biggest tennis event in a while.”
1-ranked doubles player Peng, who won titles at Wimbledon and the French Open, pulled out of public view in November after accusing a former high-ranking Chinese government official, Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli, of sexual harassment.
Concerns over Peng’s censorship and subsequent disappearance from public view led the WTA to suspend all of its tournaments in China., including the season-ending championship. The head of the tour has repeatedly called on China to investigate 35-year-old Peng’s allegations and allow the WTA to communicate directly with him.
“We are all behind him. Everyone wants to have some news and see that he is really okay,” said Tatjana Maria, 34, from Germany, who competed in singles and doubles at Melbourne Park. “That’s what matters most. – That she is doing well and that she is fine. … it is the WTA that has to put (ongoing) pressure on China to get some news.
Naomi Osaka, the former No. 1 singles player who won the Australian Open in 2019 and 2021, was asked several times about Peng last week.
“I haven’t heard any news. I’m not sure if it’s related or not,” Osaka said. “But I think the WTA, the whole organization, they handled it really well. I’m really proud of them.”
To note more on Peng’s case: Beijing hosts the Winter Olympics starting on February 4. IOC President Thomas Bach has sought assurances that Peng has spoken to him via video.
“It’s a very, very serious issue, obviously. Do I really think we’re going to continue to speak about it, really a lot of changes are going to happen in China? I mean, China’s going to do the same thing.” What China is going to do,” said 28-year-old American Robin Anderson, who lost in the first round of the Australian Open last week. “But it is important for us to keep talking about it and at least on them. Keep trying to build pressure.”
Mok and another Australian human rights activist, Drew Pavlo, are hoping to do the same at the opening Grand Slam tournament of the season. They raised over 20,000 Australian dollars (about $15,000) to make the shirts they are distributing.
Mok was one of three people – the other two being Chinese citizens – “Where’s Peng Shuai?” He was kicked out of the tournament field last weekend for wearing a shirt with . printed on them with the aim of encouraging players to speak up. Citing the tournament’s rules except for a “political message”, security and police told the trio that they needed to remove or discard their shirts. So they left.
Footage from the episode went viral and was widely condemned, including by International Tennis Hall of Fame member Martina Navratilova.
“It was never planned. It was a coincidence,” Mok said of a small gesture of activism that garnered a lot of attention.
A few days later, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tilly told The Associated Press that the rules had been modified, allowing the wearing of shirts in Melbourne Park – as long as people did not congregate in large groups or other spectators. do not cause problems.
“If they want to do that, that’s fine,” Tilly said. But “if anyone is coming to the site with the intention of disrupting the comfort and safety of our fans, they are not welcome.”
Pavlu said the way the initial confrontation was given an example of censorship and intimidation, which “committed us to double these 1,000 T-shirts and get them out there.”
“They couldn’t take 1,000 out of the final,” he said of Tennis Australia.
Pavlu expects the Australian Open campaign to continue at the Olympics, even though athletes traveling to Beijing have been urged by human rights activists to avoid criticizing China as they could be prosecuted.
Somehow, Mok and Pavlo managed to make a statement in Australia – one that could have been carried around the world by TV cameras during Saturday’s final.
“The tennis community has come together. Obviously we are all looking for his safety. We all hope he is fine. We hope she is doing fine,” Barty said. “Hopefully it’s not too long until we see him back here.”
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