TENNIS

Wimbledon claim anti-Communist protester was pushed down stairs on ‘Ran’ TV

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The All England Club, which organizes the prestigious Wimbledon tennis tournament, claimed an anti-Communist protester withdrawn from Sunday’s men’s singles final ‘ran down the stairs and caused a nuisance’ at the event, contradicting the account protester that security guards pushed him down the stairs.

The protester, Australian anti-communist activist Drew Pavlou, had unfurled a homemade banner that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” and shouted messages demanding that the Chinese Communist Party confirm its safety and the global tennis industry is pressuring China to do so.

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Peng is a former Wimbledon champion who disappeared in China after posting a social media post in November accusing one of the country’s most powerful men, top Olympic official Zhang Gaoli, of raping her. Peng has only since been seen in staged footage published in Chinese government media and gave an interview, under the direction of Chinese government officials, to the sports magazine The Team in February claiming that she “never disappeared” and never accused anyone of rape. Peng has not surfaced since and his allegations remain unresolved.

FILE – China’s Peng Shuai serves to Japan’s Nao Hibino during their Australian Open tennis first round singles match in Melbourne, Australia, January 21, 2020. (Andy Brownbill, File/AP)

Wimbledon is notoriously the strictest tennis tournament when it comes to audience and player behavior, enforcing an all-white dress code for players on the court and keeping the volume of crowd noise to a minimum. Prior to Pavlou’s display, Wimbledon security had prevented another group of Peng Shuai protesters from displaying their banners despite Wimbledon being Peng’s most successful tournament in his career. This decision sparked outrage from some members of the tennis community.

On Sunday, Pavlou started shouting in the middle of the men’s final between players Novak Djokovic and Nick Kyrgios – who both publicly expressed their support for Peng after his disappearance.

“I didn’t want to disrupt the game itself, so I waited to make sure there was a break in play, then just held up a sign that said ‘Where is Peng Shuai? ‘” Pavlou said in an interview with The Associated Press after his expulsion. “And I just said, ‘Where is Peng Shuai? This Chinese tennis star is persecuted by the Chinese government. Why is Wimbledon not saying anything? »

Immediately after his protest, Pavlou accused Wimbledon security officials of “breaking [his] head into the wall” and claimed that he had just “got thrown down the stairs”.

The All England Club released a brief statement apparently claiming Pavlou was “running” down the stairs when security kicked him out. It was not clear if this was in addition to being pushed down the stairs or if it was the same incident that Pavlou referred to.

“A spectator was ejected from center court after disrupting play by shouting, running down the stairs and causing a nuisance to other spectators. The individual was abducted by security colleagues and escorted off the field,” the statement read.

Pavlou did not deny having shouted.

“I tried to be as loud as possible. I shouted it because I wanted people to hear it,” he told the AP.

In America, ESPN aired the end of Pavlou’s time in the stadium after Djokovic and Kyrgios stopped playing to watch in the stands in response to the noise. The live broadcast appeared to show a man in a security uniform pushing a man in a light blue shirt – matching Pavlou’s outfit – down a flight of stairs in the stadium.

Pavlou then accused Wimbledon officials of treating him more roughly than someone who actually bothered the players, an unidentified woman who Kyrgios could be heard on TV arguing with the referee about.

Kyrgios accused the woman of having had “700 drinks” and demanded that she be evicted as she, he said, continued to try to talk to him in the middle of the dots.

“Wimbledon security did nothing as a drunken woman repeatedly heckled and shouted at Nick Kyrgios during points. But threw me down a flight of stairs and smashed my face against a wall for saying “ Where is Peng Shuai” Pavlou wrote on Twitter. “The difference is that they don’t want to lose Chinese sponsors.”

Pavlou later apologized for disturbing the pitch.

Reporters asked Kyrgios about the two incidents after the game, wondering if any of them hurt his concentration and potentially cost him the game. The player, whose appearance at Wimbledon was his first in a Grand Slam tennis final, appeared to confirm that the unidentified woman was a major disturbance, but Pavlou had no impact on his performance.

“I wasn’t distracted at all,” Kyrgios said, adding that it looked like the reporter was trying to “bait” him into a political controversy.

“Nice try,” he joked.

Djokovic, who won his seventh Wimbledon title on Sunday, did not speak publicly about the incident but was more vocal in condemning the Chinese government over Peng Shuai’s disappearance when he initially made the news. Djokovic expressed his full support for the “very bold and very courageous” decision by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to cut ties with China in protest at its treatment of Peng.

“I fully support the WTA’s position as we don’t have enough information about Peng Shuai and his well-being,” Djokovic said in December.

Interviewed in January, Kyrgios at first seemed surprised that Peng was still missing and was hesitant to make a specific comment, but nevertheless claimed, “we need more awareness about this, we can’t forget about it. , we need to use our platforms as athletes. ”

Pavlou has had a long history of protesting against the Chinese Communist Party in Australia since his days at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, where he joined students supporting the 2019 Hong Kong protests to condemn violent attacks by pro-regime Chinese students on campus. At the time, Pavlou said he received anonymous messages threatening to “kill his family” for supporting democracy in Hong Kong.

More recently, Pavlou ran a Senate campaign in May and launched an alliance of candidates opposed to Chinese communist influence, many of whom come from populations suppressed by Chinese communist policies, including Tibetans, Uyghurs and Hong Kongers. Much of Pavlou’s campaign consisted of protests against the Chinese government. In early May, police arrested Pavlou in Sydney for standing in public with a sign that read “Fuck Xi Jinping”, which Pavlou said was a violation of his freedom of speech.

A few weeks later, police re-arrested and fined Pavlou for standing in public holding a blank sign outside the Chinese consulate in Brisbane.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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