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Drew Pavlou, an Australian activist and Senate candidate from Queensland who is an avowed critic of the Chinese Communist Party, told Sydney radio show host Luke Grants on Monday, “I can’t believe they are trying to extend their political censorship to Australia.”
A day earlier, police had stopped a couple of spectators at the Australian Open (AO) for donning t-shirts which had the words ‘Wanted’ and ‘Missing’ inscribed on front with a picture of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai embossed. At the back was the question “Where is Peng Shuai?” that has resonated through the tennis world.
Asked to remove what the authorities dubbed objectionable attire and then evict them from Melbourne Park, Tennis Australia would back up the cops’ action, with their reasoning: “Under our ticket conditions of entry, we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political.”
This turned the two activists, Pavlou and Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Max Mok, determined to make their support of Shuai heard, and Saturday’s women’s final can turn into a flashpoint if the 1,000 similar t-shirts the duo procured make their way into the stadium.
HOW IT ESCALATED
Pavlou has collected USD 10,000 by Monday after setting up a GoFundMe page to raise money to “go towards printing T-shirts.”
Peng Shuai had earlier accused a top Chinese official of assault (“forced to have sex” and myriad emotional abuse) in a post that was taken down by Chinese authorities.
Speaking to Grants on Monday, Pavlou said, “Look, Peng Shuai was a huge news tidal wave, but it died away, as things go,” adding, “We just wanted to bring the conversation back with Australian Open because WTA has taken a very strong stand not allowing tournaments to be hosted in China. Sadly, Tennis Australia did not take a very strong stand. It turns out they take 25 million US dollars in annual sponsorship from Chinese corporates. And that may be linked to it.”
Pavlou added that this was not a political message of Vote X or Vote Y, but “concern for the safety of a woman who might be going through the toughest time of her life.”
“Why’s it a political statement in Australia? I can understand if we’re on mainland China. I can’t believe they are trying to extend their political censorship to Australia. And the way Tennis Australia is trying to treat us all like idiots as though we should all just forget what happened to Peng Shuai. And there’s nothing to see here. That’s what gets me,” he said.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews, would say: “We’re a democratic state with hard-earned freedoms. They are very important and valued by us. But on this issue, I’d leave it to Tennis Australia to explain what they did and why they did it,” and invite criticism.
Max Mok would tell Ten News: “We’re not buying any propaganda from Chinese state media. We never expected this type of overreaction on TA’s part. This is ridiculous totalitarianism and I can’t believe it’s extended to Australia.” Pavlou declared: “At the gates of women’s final on January 29, hand them out for free. We will dare Tennis Australia to evict us from the match. If they think they are entitled to do CPC’s bidding in Australia, we’ll dare them to do this on the world stage.”
Australian media also widely quoted that one of AO’s main sponsors is state-owned Baijiu distillery Luzhou Laojiao with the fifth main show court at Melbourne Park named the 1573 Arena after the company’s Guojiao 1573 brand, as part of a five-year deal estimated to be worth at least 40 million pounds.
Reaction to the eviction of the two activists was swift. Craig Foster, Former Socceroos captain tweeted: “Australian sport should (Hundred points symbol) support athlete & fans’ human rights protest & not be shaped by commercial relationships with other countries, whoever they may be. Human rights are not political but shutting down human rights advocacy is a deeply political act.”
On Monday, tennis legend Martina Navratilova called AO’s decision to bar protestors as “pathetic”, telling US media the organisers had acted “cowardly.”
“TA is just really capitulating on this issue … letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own Slam. I just find it really weak.”
French player Nicolas Mahut also slammed TA’s response, tweeting: “What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors.”
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton had said two weeks ago that more needs to be done to draw attention to China’s treatment of women.
“I don’t understand how, in the year 2021, in the #MeToo age, we can have an international female tennis star who claims to have been raped and sexually assaulted and she’s now effectively under house arrest and has had her social media account wiped, and somehow that’s behaviour that we should tolerate.”
“Well, it’s not – and we’re better off to speak publicly about it because otherwise the behaviour won’t change.”
When the tournament started, Ashleigh Barty, Nick Kyrgios, Victoria Azarenka and Naomi Osaka were among the star players who voiced their continuing concern about Peng Shuai’s wellbeing.
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