Martina Navratilova on Sunday said that the Australian Open organizers had acted “cowardly” by preventing fans from wearing shirts bearing messages of support for Chinese player Peng Shuai at the Grand Slam event.
After video emerged of security officials and police on Saturday instructing fans to remove shirts with the slogan “Where is Peng Shuai?” Tennis Australia 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,” Tennis Australia said in a statement.
That position dismayed 18-time Grand Slam winner Navratilova, who said the organizers were “capitulating” to China and placing sponsorship money ahead of human rights concerns.
“I find it really, really cowardly,” she said on the Tennis Channel. “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.”
Peng’s well-being became a matter of concern among the global tennis community in November last year when she appeared to allege that former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. After that social media post, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.
Peng last month said that she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her and that the social media post had been misunderstood.
The WTA suspended tournaments in China due to its concerns over Peng’s safety.
Peng supporters in Australia yesterday said that they were planning to hand out 1,000 “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts at Melbourne Park this week after raising more than US$10,000 on a GoFundMe page.
“We can see how many match-goers that they can stop,” Max Mok told Australian Broadcasting Corp Radio.
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