Australian Open Reverses Course, Allows Peng T-Shirts

Spectators had been asked to remove their shirts, worn in support of Chinese player
By Stephanie Mojica,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 24, 2022 12:40 PM CST
Updated Jan 25, 2022 6:38 AM CST
Navratilova Calls Australian Open 'Cowardly'
A file photo of China's Peng Shuai.   (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

(Newser) Update: T-shirts with the image of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai will be allowed at the Australian Open after all. The tournament has reversed its policy forbidding spectators to wear such shirts—typically asking "Where is Peng Shuai?"—after much criticism, most notably from tennis legend Martina Navratilova, per the BBC. However, no banners will be allowed, with the tournament deeming them too political. Peng has the been subject of much concern after accusing a Chinese official of sexual assault, then temporarily disappearing from the public eye. Our original story from Monday follows:

Retired tennis legend Martina Navratilova called the decision of Australian Open officials to ban spectators from wearing T-shirts supporting Chinese athlete Peng Shuai “pathetic” and used the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai in a Twitter post on Sunday. Peng accused a former Chinese vice premier of sexual assault in November and disappeared for three weeks before resurfacing, per Sky News. Security guards and police officers working the tournament on Saturday forced spectators to remove “Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts, according to another Sky News report. Some fans had banners supporting Peng confiscated on Friday, according to BBC.

“Under our ticket conditions of entry, we don't allow clothing, banners, or signs that are commercial or political,” Tennis Australia (the engine behind the Australian Open) officials said in a statement. When Peng reappeared, she made a video denying she had ever outright accused the man of sexual assault. Many people are concerned she was coerced into recanting, and the World Tennis Association has stopped tournaments in China. Tennis Australia said in a statement provided to ESPN that Peng's “safety is our primary concern.” Navratilova disagreed in an interview with the Tennis Channel and, according to ESPN coverage of that interview, said, "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.”

She further accused Australian Open officials of “capitulating” to China and allowing the country to “dictate” their policies. “I just find it really weak,” Navratilova added. Other professional tennis players have expressed concern about the entire situation with Peng, including Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka. Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open winner, called the situation “unfortunate.” Nicolas Mahut tweeted on Sunday, “What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors ..." (Read more Martina Navratilova stories.)

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