Australian Open makes U-turn on ‘Where is PengShuai?’ shirts

Fans free to wear “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts at the tournament but must not become “disruptive”, organisers say.

Former tennis star Peng Shuai serving in a game
Peng's situation became a matter of concern in November when she said that a former Chinese vice premier sexually assaulted her in the past [File: Edgar Su/Reuters]

Fans are free to wear “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts at the Australian Open but must not become “disruptive”, Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley said amid criticism of the Grand Slam organisers’ earlier stance on the issue.

In response to a video posted on social media on Saturday of security officials instructing fans to remove shirts with the slogan on them, the governing body said the Melbourne Park tournament does not allow political statements.

Former tennis player Martina Navratilova described that reaction as “cowardly” and said organisers were giving in to China and placing sponsorship money ahead of human rights concerns.

“Unfortunately I think there’s a lot of miscommunication and lack of understanding on it, because it’s not just a one-line response,” Tiley told Reuters news agency on Tuesday.

“Someone wearing a T-shirt saying something is not going to have any impact on the safety. But when they start getting together as a group, as a mob, and start being disruptive, in any way or form, that’s a different thing.

“If they’re coming in to do what everyone else is doing – to enjoy the tennis – and if they’ve got a T-shirt on that says, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’, that’s fine.”

He also said that security would make case-by-case assessments on the issue.

“The situation in the last couple of days is that some people came with a banner on two large poles and we can’t allow that,” he told AFP news agency. “If you are coming to watch the tennis that’s fine, but we can’t allow anyone to cause a disruption at the end of the day.”

Peng’s allegations

Peng’s situation became a matter of concern in November when the former women’s number one doubles player alleged that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, sexually assaulted her in the past.

After that post went viral, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.

Last month, Peng said she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that a social media post she had made had been misunderstood.

Zhang has not commented on the matter.

In Beijing, responding to a query about the new rule on the T-shirts, a foreign ministry spokesman said efforts to politicise sport would fail.

“The politicisation of sports will not succeed and will not gain support from the majority of people, including sportsmen and women, in the international community,” Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing.

On Monday, Peng supporters in Australia said they were planning to hand out 1,000 ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirts at Melbourne Park this week after raising more than A$10,000 on a GoFundMe page.

The Women’s Tennis Association has suspended tournaments in China due to its concerns over Peng’s safety and Tiley said Tennis Australia backed their stance.

Source: News Agencies