Days after fans attending the Australian Open were asked to remove t-shirts with the words “Where is Peng Shuai,” Tennis Australia is changing its stance on clothing containing “political slogans.”
On Saturday, a video of security asking fans to remove the t-shirts was uploaded to TikTok, where officials can be heard saying that “political slogans” are not allowed at the Australian Open.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson told Guardian Australia over the weekend. “Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the [Women’s Tennis Association] WTA and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her wellbeing.”
Following global backlash, Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley reversed course on Monday.
“So we support the WTA’s position but at the same time we have terms and conditions about coming on site,” Tiley said, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
“What we’ve said is that if anyone comes on site with an intent to disrupt and use the Australian Open as a platform for themselves and really disrupts the comfort and the safety of our fans, then they’re not welcome,” Tiley continued.
“However, if someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai, that’s fine,” he added.
While Tiley said that t-shirts supporting Peng would now be allowed, he reiterated that banners would still be kept out of the Australian Open.
“But what’s not fine is if that someone brings in a big banner and it’s got big poles attached to it and it’s used as something [which is dangerous], it really takes away from the comfort and safety of the fans,” Tiley said. “We’ll stick to those terms and conditions.”
Peng’s safety has been a concern since her November 2 social media post in which she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her three years ago following a round of tennis. She also said Zhang’s wife guarded the door. Her post was deleted nearly 30 minutes after publication and Peng’s account on Weibo — a Chinese social media platform — was blocked from searchers on the platform.
In December, the WTA announced a suspension of all its tournaments in China, citing concerns that Peng was not able to “communicate freely.”
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement to the WTA website. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”
On Sunday, eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova laid into the Australian Open for banning the t-shirts, calling the move “cowardly.”
“Sports has always been at the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward,” Navratilova said on Sunday. “And we are going backwards, uphill. We’ve had the issue with Peng Shuai, ‘Where is Peng Shuai.’ And now, there were fans at the tournament watching — at a practice, they weren’t even on the main court — they had ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ on their t-shirt and they were told to cover it up. And the Australian Open issued a proclamation that’s just not acceptable. I find it really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement. This is a human rights statement.”
“I think they’re wrong on this,” Navratilova added.
Over the weekend, Victoria Azarenka — a WTA Player Council member — said that attempts to get in contact with Peng haven’t been successful.
“There hasn’t been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable,” Azarenka said.
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.