Australian Open organizers yesterday said that the safety of Peng Shuai remains their “primary concern” even as security officials at the Grand Slam forced fans to remove T-shirts referring to the Chinese former doubles No. 1.
Drew Pavlou of Brisbane posted a video on Twitter showing Max Mok, a pro-democracy campaigner from Hong Kong who announced his intention to contest the Melbourne marginal seat of Chisholm in this year’s federal election, and a fellow spectator speaking with a member of Tennis Australia security who confiscated a banner and asked them to remove their T-shirts, which featured a photo of Peng on the front below the word “Wanted.”
“Where is Peng Shuai?” was printed on the back of the shirts.
A police officer was called to explain that the material was in breach of the organizer’s policy banning political statements, the video showed.
“I’m not saying you can’t have those views, but Tennis Australia sets the rules here,” the police officer said.
Peng’s well-being became a matter of concern among the global tennis community in November when she appeared to allege online that a former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. After that post, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.
Last month, she said she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that a social media post she had made had been misunderstood.
The WTA suspended tournaments in China due to its concerns over Peng’s safety, which the Tour says have not been alleviated by her public appearances.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” Tennis Australia said in a statement in response to questions raised about the video.
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being,” they said.
The Australian governing body has found itself in an uncomfortable balancing act given that one of the Australian Open’s major commercial partners is Chinese premium liquor brand Guojiao 1573.
Additional reporting by The Guardian
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