Tennis legend Martina Navratilova on Monday slammed a decision by Australian Open organisers to prevent fans from wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts.
Chinese doubles player Peng had gone missing for weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual misconduct in November.
Navratilova said the Australian Open organisers had acted “cowardly”. “That’s just pathetic. The @wta stands pretty much alone on this!!!” 18-time Grand Slam winner Navratilova tweeted on the T-shirt ban, using the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.
Tennis Australia, on a video that had emerged of security and police officials instructing fans on Saturday to remove shirts bearing the slogan ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’, defended its stance by saying the tournament does not allow political statements. “Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” it said in a statement.
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) January 23, 2022
Tennis Australia confiscate ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ shirts, banners at @AustralianOpen
Not cool @TennisAustralia
— Sophie McNeill (@Sophiemcneill) January 23, 2022
“I find it really, really cowardly. I think they are wrong on this. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement. (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,” Navratilova said on the US-based Tennis Channel, according to a report by Reuters.
Peng had in November posted a 1,600-word note on Chinese social media platform Weibo, accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him. She then disappeared from the public eye, triggering concern among the international tennis community, fans and human rights groups. Weeks later in December, Peng reappeared and gave a media interview in which she denied making any accusations of sexual assault and said her social media post had led to “a lot of misunderstandings”.