Campaigners wearing T-shirts with name of Chinese tennis player say they were told not to approach anyone
By Emine Sinmaz
July 4, 2022
Free Tibet protesters (left to right) Jason Leith, 34, Will Hoyles, 39, and Caleb Compton, 27, show their T-shirts drawing attention to Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. Photograph: Rebecca Speare-Cole/PA
Activists wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts claim they were confronted by Wimbledon security staff who warned them against approaching spectators and political messaging at SW19. Nine-time champion Martina Navratilova expressed her anger at the move after the campaigners posted a video online saying they were stopped and questioned. The group of four men from the Free Tibet campaign said they came to Wimbledon to “raise a bit of awareness” about the Chinese tennis player, a former doubles world No 1. The 36-year-old disappeared from public view for weeks last year after she made public allegations on social media saying that a former top-ranked Communist party official pressured her into having sex. But her post was deleted quickly, and Peng was not seen for a couple of weeks. She later appeared only in photo opportunities arranged by Chinese officials. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended hosting events in China because of their concerns about her. Will Hoyles, 39, one of the campaigners, 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’d just been wandering around and we’d spoken to a few people and that’s when they seemed to get quite suspicious.”
He said 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 added.
Jason Leith in front of the Wimbledon honours board. Photograph: Rebecca Speare-Cole/PA
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.”
Navratilova also raised concerns, tweeting: “What? Not allowed to speak?!? WTH [what the hell]?” before adding: “This is what Russia and China would do, right? But UK? Hmm.”
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.” The group were later pictured wearing their T-shirts while in the stands on court.