WIMBLEDON – An activist who shouted “Where is Peng Shuai?” and held up a sign with the same message was removed from Centre Court during the Wimbledon men's final on Sunday.
Drew Pavlou, an activist who made a similar protest at the Australian Open this year, said he shouted the message during a stoppage in play and was then forcefully removed from the stadium.
“I didn’t want to disrupt the actual match itself so I waited to make sure there was a break in the play and then I just basically held up a sign saying ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’” Pavlou told The Associated Press. “And I just said, ‘Where is Peng Shuai? This Chinese tennis star is being persecuted by the Chinese government. Why won’t Wimbledon say something?’”
Peng is a retired professional tennis player from China who last year accused a former high-ranking member of the country’s ruling Communist Party of sexual assault. She has made very few public appearances since then.
On Monday, four activists wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts were stopped by security at Wimbledon and had their bags searched.
Pavlou said he smuggled the sign onto the grounds of the All England Club by folding it up and hiding it in his shoe. He also had a T-shirt with the message tucked into the waistline of his jeans.
He shouted the protest early in the third set of the match between Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios. Djokovic eventually beat Kyrgios 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
“I tried to be as loud as possible,” said Pavlou, who is Australian. “I screamed it because I wanted people to hear it.”
Pavlou said security wrestled him to the ground and then four of them restrained him with his arms behind his back and brought him to a public area outside Centre Court. He said he was then told to leave the grounds.
He tried to re-enter a short time later but a security guard told him his tickets had been canceled.
The All England Club said Pavlou was removed "after disrupting play by shouting, running down the stairs and causing a nuisance to their fellow spectators.”
At the Australian Open, a spectator was removed from the grounds for wearing a T-shirt supporting Peng but the tournament later reversed its decision and allowed people to wear the clothing as long as they didn’t congregate in large groups or cause problems for other spectators.
Peng disappeared from public view last year after accusing former Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Her accusation was quickly scrubbed from the internet, and discussion of it remains heavily censored.
Peng won two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles in her career, including at Wimbledon in 2013.
The women’s professional tennis tour canceled its tournaments in China because of the situation surrounding Peng.
More AP Wimbledon coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/wimbledon and https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports