The Australian Open has reversed its ban on ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirts following widespread backlash to the tournament’s claim they constituted “commercial or political” material, but banners will still be prohibited.
Late last week spectators at Melbourne Park were asked to remove their shirts referencing the Chinese player, whose wellbeing has been the subject of international concern since she accused a senior Chinese official of sexual assault in early November.
Tournament security confiscated a banner and asked fans to take off their shirts before Victoria Police were called over and an officer explained “I’m not saying you can’t have those views, but Tennis Australia sets the rules here”.
In the two days since the situation was made public by Brisbane activist Drew Pavlou, high-profile figures have pushed back on Tennis Australia’s insistence that Peng’s safety is its “primary concern” despite its decision to classify the banner and T-shirts as “commercial or political” material.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova on Monday condemned the stance as “pathetic” and accused Tennis Australia of “capitulating” to China.
Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton joined the chorus on Tuesday, saying Peng’s safety “is not a political issue”. “It’s a human rights issue,” Dutton told Sky News. “And it’s frankly about the treatment of a young woman who is claiming that she has been sexually assaulted.”
But TA chief executive and tournament director, Craig Tiley, on Tuesday announced the ban for shirts would be reversed as long as those wearing them were well behaved. Banners would still be barred due to safety concerns.
“Yes, as long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful,” he told AFP. “It’s all been a bit lost in translation from some people who are not here and don’t really know the full view.
“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. 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.”
A source from TA said decisions around what will or will not be allowed inside Melbourne Park would be made on a case-by-case basis.
A flood of ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirts is likely to be seen on Saturday before the women’s final with fundraisers pledging to hand them out for free at Melbourne Park. A GoFundMe titled “hand out Peng Shuai shirts” has raised more than $15,000 since it was created in defiance of the ban three days ago.
Peng has appeared only rarely on Chinese social media since early November when her post on Weibo, in which she accused the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault, was quickly deleted from China’s heavily censored internet.
In late December, Peng retracted her allegations in an interview with Singapore media outlet Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language publication under the state-controlled Singapore Press Holdings Limited.