Australian Open reverses Peng Shuai t-shirts ban after international backlash

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Two spectators wearing
Two spectators wearing

The Australian Open has U-turned on rules which banned the wearing of t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after an international backlash.

Footage emerged last weekend of security and police demanding a fan remove a t-shirt with Peng Shuai’s face and “where is Peng Shuai” written on the back, because it broke the tournament’s rules on “political messaging”.

Activists are reportedly planning to distribute hundreds of the t-shirts in time for the women’s final on Saturday in support of the player, who disappeared from public view after saying she was sexually assaulted by a former senior member of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Watch: Australia activists react to 'Where is Peng Shuai' shirts being allowed after backlash

In a reversal, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said it would be OK for people to wear the shirts as long as they did not congregate or cause problems for other spectators.

"If they want to do that, that’s fine," Mr Tiley told the Associated Press. But he added: "We can’t sell tickets in advance and have people come in and feel unsafe because there’s a large group of people that are using [the tournament] as a platform to espouse their views on whatever topic it is."

Tennis legend, Martina Navratilova, a three-time Australian Open singles champion, had criticised the t-shirt ban, saying: “That’s just pathetic.”

Tennis Australia initially said that in order to make the event “welcoming, safe and inclusive”, it had a longstanding policy of not “allowing banners, signs or clothing that are commercial or political”.

Peng Shuai (Nigel French/PA) (PA Archive)
Peng Shuai (Nigel French/PA) (PA Archive)

The organisers later said it understood "people have strongly held personal and political views on a range of issues,” and that its primary concern was Peng Shuai’s wellbeing.

China drew international criticism following the near-total disappearance from public view of Peng Shuai after her accusations against former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in November.

The disappearance caused widespread concern for Peng across the world of sport and beyond.

The three-time Olympian and former doubles champion later appeared standing beside a tennis court in Beijing, waving and signing commemorative tennis balls for children.

The foreign arm of Chinese state TV also issued a statement in English which it claimed was from Peng which retracted her accusation against Zhang.

But Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief executive Steve Simon last month questioned the statement’s legitimacy and others have said it only increased their concern about her safety.

The WTA has made repeated calls for China to conduct an inquiry into the 35-year-old Peng’s accusations and to allow the tennis officials to communicate directly with her.

Watch: China Tennis Star Denies Sexual Assault Claim

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