Tennis Australia criticized for banning Peng Shuai T-shirt

  • Spectators in Melbourne Park were ordered to wear T-shirts and banners with the slogan ‘Where’s Peng Shuai?’ to delete.
  • Martina Navratilova and Alize Cornet question Tennis Australia’s stance

Former tennis player Martina Navratilova has accused Australian Open organizers of ‘capitulating’ to China over its ban on T-shirts in support of Peng Shuai.

Spectators in Melbourne Park were ordered to wear T-shirts and banners with the slogan ‘Where’s Peng Shuai?’ off, drawing attention to the predicament of the Chinese player.

Tennis Australia said it would not allow “clothing, banners or placards that are commercial or political” but would continue to work with the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to clarify the situation.

Since early November, when Peng disappeared from view after making accusations against a high-profile Chinese official on social media, there has been deep concern for the well-being of the former world number one double.

She has since been seen several times, including giving a TV interview, but her situation remains unclear.

Navratilova, an activist on a range of social issues, told the Tennis Channel, “Sport has always been kind of at the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we’re going backwards, I think.

“We had the problem with Peng Shuai, and now there were fans at the tournament who were practicing Naomi Osaka, they weren’t even on the main field, they had ‘Where’s Peng Shuai’ on their T-shirts and they were told to hide it.

“I think it’s really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement. Basically capitulate on this issue of the Aussies and really let the Chinese dictate what they do in their own way. I just think it’s really weak.”

The Australian Open profiles itself as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific region and collaborates with various Chinese partners.

Following the incident, activists launched a fundraising appeal to print 1,000 T-shirts to distribute to fans attending the women’s singles final at Melbourne Park this weekend.

France’s Alize Cornet, who was the first player to publicly express her concern about Peng, said of the T-shirt incident: “When I heard that, I was surprised. I think everyone should be able to show their support for Peng Shuai.”

The WTA has taken a strong stance in support of Peng and has suspended tournaments in China, which has become the main market.

Cornet said: “It’s still very uncertain how she’s doing, but I think overall it was good for her to shed some light on this story. Now, of course, we’re all waiting for more details that we don’t have until now, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

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