Activist kicked off center court at Wimbledon

Chris Lehourites, The Associated Press

WIMBLEDON, UK — An activist who shouted “where is Peng Shuai?” and who held up a sign with the same message was ejected from center court in the men’s final of the Wimbledon tournament on Sunday.

Drew Pavlou, an activist who took part in a similar protest at the most recent Australian Open, claimed he shouted the message during stoppage time and was then forcibly removed from the stadium.

« I didn’t want to disrupt the game as such so I waited until there was a break in play and then just held up a sign saying ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ told The Associated Press. I simply said ‘where is Peng Shuai?’ This Chinese tennis player is persecuted by the Chinese government. Why is Wimbledon not saying anything?

Peng is a retired professional tennis player who accused a former high-ranking member of the country’s ruling Communist Party of sexual assault last year. Since this accusation, she has made very few public appearances.

On Monday, four activists wearing a sweater that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” were stopped by security at Wimbledon and had their bags searched.

Pavlou explained that he smuggled the sign onto the All England Club grounds by folding it up and hiding it in his shoe. He also had a sweater with the message hidden in his pants at the waist.

He appeared at the start of the third round of the duel 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 shouted because I wanted people to hear the message. »

Pavlou said security threw him to the ground. Four guards then restrained him with his arms behind his back and brought him to a public area outside center court. He was then told to leave the premises.

He attempted to re-enter the stadium shortly after, but was informed by a security guard that his tickets had been cancelled.

The All England Club claimed Pavlou was sent off ‘after disrupting play by shouting, running down stairs and disturbing other spectators’.

During the Australian Open, a spectator was kicked out of the venue for wearing a jersey that supported Peng. The organizers, however, reversed their decision and allowed people to wear these clothes, as long as they did not gather in large groups or cause problems for other spectators.

Peng disappeared from public life last year, after accusing former Communist Party official Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. His accusation was quickly scrubbed from the internet and discussions related to it remain heavily censored.

Peng has won two Grand Slam women’s doubles titles in her career, including at Wimbledon in 2013.

The WTA Tour has canceled its tournaments in China due to the situation surrounding Peng.

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