Tennis Australia Reverses Course, Will Allow Peng Shuai Tee Shirts

BEIJING, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 28: Peng Shuai of China reacts during the Women's Singles first round match againstDaria Kasatkina of Russia during the 2019 China Open at the China National Tennis Center on September 28, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Tennis Australia, the governing body making rules and regulations for the Australian Open, has decided to do away with restrictions that resulted in a group of fans being escorted from the stands last weekend for wearing shirts that read, “Where is Peng Shuai?”

On Saturday, a viral video showed police and event security officials escorting a group of people from the stands for wearing shirts asking about the whereabouts of famed Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. The internationally ranked tennis star accused China’s Vice President, Zhang Gaoli, of rape.

Shuai’s Weibo account was quickly shut down, and the post was deleted. Since then, the star tennis player has only appeared or been referenced in brief, obviously coerced videos.

However, on Tuesday, Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley announced that the tee shirts inquiring about Peng Shuai’s whereabouts would be allowed.

Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli makes a speech during the Philippines - China Trade and Investment Fourm at the Great Hall of the People on October...

BEIJING, CHINA – OCTOBER 20: Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli makes a speech during the Philippines – China Trade and Investment Forum at the Great Hall of the People on October 20, 2016, in Beijing China. (Photo by Wu Hong-Pool/Getty Images)

“If they want to do that, that’s fine,” Tiley told the Associated Press. “But “if anyone’s coming on-site with the express intent of disrupting the comfort and safety of our fans, they’re not welcome.

“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.”

At first, Tennis Australia responded to the incident by claiming that the tee shirts breached their prohibition against clothing bearing political messaging.

“To ensure that the Australian Open remains a welcoming, safe and inclusive event for everyone, we have a longstanding policy of not allowing banners, signs, or clothing that are commercial or political,” organizers said.

However, the tee shirts do not espouse views or promote a political message. They’re merely asking what happened to a woman who suddenly disappeared after accusing a senior leader of a tyrannical regime of rape. Moreover, the Women’s Tennis Association has taken a leading role in demanding that the Chinese provide verifiable evidence of Peng Shuai’s safety and whereabouts.

So the tee shirts never should have been an issue.

Despite the best efforts of activists and the WTA, no progress has been made in determining exactly where Peng Shuai is or her condition.

WTA Council Member Victoria Azarenka said that there “hasn’t been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai.”


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