Monday, 3 Oct 2022

'Where is Peng Shuai?' Wimbledon activists are 'harassed by security'

‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ Activists wearing t-shirts raising awareness about Chinese tennis star’s mysterious disappearance are ‘harassed and searched by Wimbledon security guards’

  • China campaigners reportedly confronted by ‘suspicious’ staff at Wimbledon
  • Last year Peng Shuai vanished after alleging sexual assault by senior politician
  • Tournament has sponsorship deal with HSBC, which collaborates with Beijing
  • Wimbledon winner, 36, made four appearances at SW19, most recently in 2014
  • All England Club commented: ‘We remain very concerned for Peng Shuai’

A group of campaigners wearing t-shirts referencing a vanished Chinese tennis star were confronted by security staff at Wimbledon.

Four Brits wore shirts with the words ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ in bold lettering to SW19 yesterday morning after entering the tournament grounds in regular clothes.

They claim they were confronted by guards, searched and ‘harassed’ for trying to remind people about Peng’s predicament.

Peng, who won a doubles trophy at Wimbledon in one of four appearances at SW19, has not appeared in public since she accused a senior politician of rape last year. 

Three activists are pictured wearing the shirts close to Centre Court yesterday morning

They claim they were confronted, searched and harassed by security guards at SW19

Jason Leith, 34, poses next to a board referencing Peng’s doubles victory nine years ago

Left to right: Will Hoyles, 39, Caleb Compton, 27, and Jason Leith, 34, who work for Free Tibet

Peng, 36, alleged in November that ex-vice premier Zhang Gaoli forced her to have sex with him four years ago, in a post to state-censored social media site Weibo.

Within 20 minutes the post had been taken down – and officials at the World Tennis Association (WTA) were unable to reach her.

Days later, Peng’s case was taken up by the global tennis community, prompting messages of support from Andy Murray, Serena Williams, Billie Jean King and more.

Yet in a recent interview with French newspaper L’Equipe, Peng ‘retracted’ the statement, claiming she had never alleged she had been sexual assault.

Her comments were described by the BBC as a ‘propaganda exercise’ on China’s part.

In the same interview, Peng also announced her sudden retirement.

Wimbledon’s official banking partner is HSBC, a London-listed bank which makes most of its money in Hong Kong.

The institution was criticised for backing Beijing’s anti-democratic security law in 2020, which banned newspaper Apple Daily and suppressed mass protests.

Serena Williams joined the calls to find Shuai, tweeting with the hashtag #whereispengshuai 

HSBC is Wimbledon’s banking partner, also sponsoring star Emma Raducanu (file image)

The All England Club has resisted calls to end its lucrative sponsorship deal with the bank.

A Club spokesperson yesterday confirmed that ‘four guests were approached by security’ next to Court One.

Free Tibet activist Will Hoyles, 39, said: ‘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, you know, what we’d already done etc.

‘And we told them we had just been wandering around and we had spoken to a few people and that is when they seemed to get quite suspicious.’


Peng Shuai (left) accused Zhang Gaoli (right), China’s ex-vice premier, of rape last November

Wimbledon has resisted calls to end its lucrative partnership with HSBC (court one yesterday)

He added that the staff told them they ‘should not approach anyone to talk to them’.

‘They said repeatedly the club doesn’t like to be political,’ he said.

Gaoli is shown in 2017 shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was once a prominent figure in the Chinese Communist Party – and Peng’s allegations became a shocking #MeToo turning point

‘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.

‘We think that’s a fairly easy thing to ask and I think given the support we’ve had from people around the grounds I think lots of people are asking the same question so I don’t think it’s a political message.’

Mr Hoyles said the security staff disagreed and asked if they were planning anything else before searching their bags for any flags or banners.

Jason Leith, 34, also from the Free Tibet campaign, said they took issue with the club saying they were ‘not political’.

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.’

A series of tennis stars tweeted their support for Peng after news of her disappearance came

The 34-year-old said they had come to Wimbledon because the noise around Peng Shuai has ‘kind of died down’.

‘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,’ he added.

‘We’re not protesting Wimbledon, maybe we think they should be a bit more vocal in support of the situation but we’re not here to stop anyone playing or stop anyone enjoying their time here.’

‘We’re expressing our support and showing solidarity,’ said Caleb Compton, 27, who is also from the Free Tibet campaign.

Mr Hoyles said they also wanted to raise awareness for the ‘wider issue of the engagement of sports with China’.

Wimbledon pleads with players not to max out free food allowance

Tennis stars in SW19 this year have been told to stop swiping free food from the tournament restaurant.

VIPs are given a daily allowance of £90 every day, with one coach per player allowed around half that amount.

But Wimbledon’s caterers have reportedly been stretched to their limits, with tournament organisers asking players to be ‘judicious’ with their takings. 

One coach reportedly put 27 yoghurts in their bag.

Wimbledon is not thought to be planning to reduce the cap.

‘The Chinese government is treated widely as just another normal government around the [world] but it’s genocide and dictatorship and for major sporting events and major sporting organisations to treat it like it’s just like any other country because of the money there is appalling and that’s something we wanted to draw attention to,’ he said.

Mr Hoyles added that they were ‘really disappointed’ but not surprised security staff approached them.

He said: ‘I mean you would hope that an institution like Wimbledon would give us power to speak out in support of one of its champions but not surprised.’

The group said they had come with a fourth member, a man called Alvin, who did not want to share his second name, from the group Power To Hongkongers, but he had already left the grounds.

Responding to footage of the group talking to security staff on Twitter, Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith tweeted: ‘Dear @Wimbledon, unlike in Xi’s China, we value free speech in this country.

‘People wishing to raise their voices in support of #WhereIsPengShuai should be allowed to do so.’

An All England Club spokesperson said: ‘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.’

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