Tennis Australia, the organizing body of the Australian Open, sparked online criticism after a video emerged on TikTok showing fans being prohibited from wearing shirts that reference Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai at the tournament.
The video, which was posted on TikTok over the weekend by human rights activist Drew Pavlou, shows security officers at Melbourne Park confiscating shirts and banners emblazoned with the phrase “Where is Peng Shuai?”, reported ESPN.
Among the confiscated items was a banner that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” A Victoria Police officer who responded to the scene was also captured saying: “The Australian Open does have a rule that you can’t have political slogans… it’s a rule that it’s a condition of entry.”
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As NextShark previously reported, the 36-year-old Chinese athlete suddenly vanished from the public eye in November last year after accusing former Chinese Vice-Pemier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. She resurfaced over a month later with a video denying the sexual assault allegations. In a statement, Tennis Australia justified the actions of the security officers, saying that political and commercial items and attire are not permitted at the tournament, reported Reuters.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry, we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” read the statement. “Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being.”
According to 18-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova, Tennis Australia’s position on the issue is “cowardly,” and fans are simply making a “human rights statement,” not a political one.
According to Reuters, Navratilova discussed the situation on the Tennis Channel, saying, “(Tennis Australia 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.”
On Twitter, Navratilova described Tennis Australia’s decision as “pathetic” and used the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.
In an interview with Sky News on Tuesday, Australia’s defense minister, Peter Dutton, also stated that Peng’s safety “is not a political issue.”
“It’s a human rights issue,” Dutton was quoted as saying. “And it’s frankly about the treatment of a young woman who is claiming that she has been sexually assaulted.”
Today, Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley reversed the tournament’s ban on shirts referencing Peng Shuai. They will be permitted as long as the people who wear them “are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful,” he told AFP at the Grand Slam. A GoFundMe page set up on Friday by Pavlou in order to collect $17,000 AUD ($12,140 USD) to print “a thousand” Peng Shuai T-shirts to hand out for free to the final’s spectators has raised over $19,000 ($13,570 USD) thus far.