Activists Plan to Give Out "Where Is Peng Shuai?" Shirts at the Australian Open

Activist Drew Pavlou hopes to raise enough money to print 1,000 shirts posing the question "Where is Peng Shuai?" with the intent of handing them out for free at the 2022 Australian Open women's singles final. Concerns remain about Peng, a tennis player representing China — she disappeared from the public eye last fall after accusing a former government official of sexual assault only to reemerge almost three weeks later and deny making those claims. The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) vehemently expressed skepticism over Peng's well-being, saying she seemed to have been pressured to retract her allegations.

Pavlou, an Australian Senate candidate, started his GoFundMe, which has all but reached its goal, as a response to police and Melbourne Park security telling two fellow activists to remove their shirts last week — see a video of that incident here. Officials said the shirts and a corresponding banner violated Tennis Australia's rules against "political slogans."

The incident has since garnered international attention. Former tennis pro Martina Navratilova criticized the removal as "pathetic" and also, according to ESPN, "really, really cowardly."

After much unrest online, the head of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley, told "The Sydney Morning Herald" on Jan. 25 that shirts supporting the Chinese player will be allowed at the Australian Open, but banners will not. Max Mok, one of the two spectators confronted for the shirts, said to the outlet that Tennis Australia's reversal was "purely down to the media coverage we've received worldwide and within Australia."

Artist Xiao, who designed the original "Where is Peng Shuai?" shirt, said in a "New York Times" interview they didn't want Novak Djokovic's visa status saga to overshadow what many feel is Peng's continued lack of safety. Xiao was the other person confronted in the aforementioned video by police. They tell POPSUGAR they're not taking interviews at this time. They do note, however, that they aren't involved in the GoFundMe efforts and that the GoFundMe shirts are based off of their initial design.

Pavlou said to Al Jazeera this week, "Hopefully people in China, in mainland China, will see thousands of people wearing those Peng Shuai t-shirts at the Australian Open grand final, and they will know that she is still not safe. They will know that people all across the world are still speaking out for Peng Shuai." He then called Tennis Australia's policy reversal "a victory for people power."

Some have accused Pavlou of using these fundraising efforts for political gain. "Our campaign for Peng Shuai is about speaking up for a missing person, a victim of sexual violence, and every last dollar we've raised through the GoFundMe has gone towards raising awareness for Peng Shuai," he tells POPSUGAR. "This is strictly separate from any election campaign because this is about speaking up for a human being in need."

"This campaign has helped put Peng Shuai back in the headlines for the first time in months, and millions of people around the world are now learning about her story for the first time . . ."

Pavlou continues, "This campaign has helped put Peng Shuai back in the headlines for the first time in months, and millions of people around the world are now learning about her story for the first time, so let people find whatever reason they can think up to criticize us. [T]he fundamental is just making sure Peng Shuai is in the news, which is exactly what the Chinese government don't want."

If spectators wish to wear their "Where is Peng Shuai?" shirts to matches after the women's singles final — like the men's final on Jan. 30 — Pavlou says they're more than welcome to do so. "We want a sea of shirts in that stadium to show the world that Australians will stand up to Chinese government attempts to censor discussion, and we will stand up for innocent human beings in need like Peng Shuai," he says. Pavlou calls this a "broad-based movement of thousands upon thousands" and is confident he and his fellow activists will be able to hand out all of the shirts they plan to print due to the public support they've received. The shirts, he notes, will be ready this Friday.

The WTA announced in December that it was suspending all WTA tournaments in China until the organization received more clarity about Peng and how the Chinese government handled her allegations. "The Washington Post" reports that the International Olympic Committee said it spoke with Peng as recently as last week and plans to meet with her at the Beijing Olympics next month.