Activists plan to reprise their controversial “Where is Peng Shuai?” protest at next month’s grand slam, with the support of three-time Australian Open winner Martina Navratilova.
At this year’s Open in January, Tennis Australia was criticised for initially confiscating the shirts, citing a ban on “commercial or political” material. The decision was later reversed.
Protesters say hundreds of new “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts have already been printed with plans to hand out 1,000 to tennis fans outside the Australian Open gates.
Peng disappeared from public view for several weeks in 2021 after she used social media to accuse a senior Communist party official of pressuring her into having sex.
Her post was quickly deleted and she eventually appeared in photo opportunities arranged by Chinese officials. Little is known about her wellbeing and the Women’s Tennis Association has repeatedly called for an independent investigation.
“I support the protests,” said Navratilova, a former number one tennis player.
“The Women’s Tennis Association is the only one that has actually tried to do something [about Peng Shuai].”
One of the protest organisers, Drew Pavlou, said they planned to “make trouble” for Tennis Australia, saying its commercial deals with Chinese companies presented a conflict of interest on human rights issues.
“Unfortunately for them, they are going to have these political problems on their hands for the next few years,” said Pavlou.
“We are just not going to allow that tension and that contradiction to go unnoticed and we are going to make trouble for Tennis Australia.”
Last month, Australian federal police officers escorted Pavlou out of Parliament House in Canberra, with the human rights campaigner claiming he had been deemed a “high risk individual”.
Pavlou had met with Liberal senator James Paterson who said he was “concerned” that federal police and parliament’s speaker did not confirm why Pavlou was asked to leave the building.
The WTA is no longer visiting China and has vowed to continue boycotting the country until there is more transparency around her treatment and wellbeing.
The upcoming protests were also welcomed by Human Rights Watch’s senior China researcher, Yaqiu Wang, who said she was encouraged by the continued activism.
“The international community should continue to pay attention on Peng and keep her story and plight in the public domain,” said Wang.
“Many prominent women, including athletes around the world, have told their #MeToo stories but few are paying the price Peng is paying.
“The least people in the free world can do is to show they still care and to keep pressing for information on her whereabouts and her wellbeing.”
Bonnie Wong, a science student also involved in planning the Melbourne protest, said she expected Tennis Australia would allow them to wear the shirts inside stadiums.
“I hope so, but last year it wasn’t smooth. They tried to stop us when we were distributing outside the gate and people were taking the shirts in with them,” Wong said.
“If the Australian Open can cooperate with us and allow us to spread this message it would be really great.”
In January, Tennis Australia chief executive, Craig Tiley, said the ban on shirts would be reversed provided those wearing them were well behaved.
“Yes, as long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful,” he said. “It’s all been a bit lost in translation from some people who are not here and don’t really know the full view.”
Similar shirts were worn at Wimbledon this year where activists said they were confronted by security. An All England Club spokesperson said they were allowed to continue wearing the shirts.