Peng Shuai: Martina Navratilova calls Australian Open organizers ‘cowards’
Martina Navratilova has accused Australian Open organizers of cowardice and “capitulation” to China over the banning of t-shirts supporting Peng Shuai.
Video footage on social media showed onlookers in Melbourne Park having to remove t-shirts and banners asking “Where is Peng Shuai?”
The Chinese player disappeared for weeks after accusing former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct in November.
Australian Open security staff told a fan to delete a “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirt
Former world doubles number one Peng Shuai (pictured in 2020) is missing the Grand Slam and there are fears for her well-being after alleging online in November that she was ‘forced’ into having sex by the former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli
She has since reappeared, giving a TV interview at one point, but concerns remain over her wellbeing.
Spectators at the first Slam of the year wore the t-shirts to re-emphasize his plight, but security personnel told them to remove them.
Tennis Australia said it did not allow “commercial or political clothing, banners or signs”, but added it was continuing to work with the WTA to seek clarification of Peng’s whereabouts.
But Navratilova, an activist on a range of social issues, told Tennis Channel: “Sport has always been kind of at the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we’re moving backwards, I think.”
On Sunday, footage emerged showing security guards and police demanding that spectators remove their “Where is Peng Shuai” t-shirts during the weekend’s grand slam
Former player turned pundit Martina Navratilova slammed Australian Open organizers
‘We had the problem with Peng Shuai, and now there were fans at the tournament watching Naomi Osaka practice, they weren’t even on the main court, they had ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ on their T- shirt and they were told to cover it up.
“I find that really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement, this is a statement of human rights.
“Kind of really capitulating on this issue from the Australians and letting the Chinese really dictate what they do in their own slam.” I just find him really weak.
Navratilova also called the organizers’ stance “pathetic” in a tweet on Sunday.
It has emerged that Tennis Australia, which likes to promote the tournament as the grand slam of the entire Asia-Pacific region, has struck a lucrative £53m sponsorship deal with Chinese liquor distillery Luzhou Laojiao.
Melbourne Park’s fifth main exhibition ground is named 1573 Arena, after the company’s Guojiao 1573 brand.
Tennis Australia’s statement read: “Under our entry requirements, we do not allow clothing, banners or signs of a commercial or political nature.”
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our main concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to clarify his situation and will do everything we can to ensure his well-being.
Video released over the weekend showed two human rights activists – including Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigner Max Mok – confronting security personnel in Melbourne Park.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai (pictured) disappeared from public view in November after bringing sexual assault charges against a senior politician
A GoFundMe page has since been set up and has raised £3,500 to print more Peng t-shirts to give out to spectators ahead of the women’s singles final on Saturday.
Mok told The Age newspaper: “If Tennis Australia is serious about the move they will let people in. Time will tell which side they are on.”
In November, Peng posted a 1,600-word message on Chinese social media platform Weibo alleging that former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had forced her to have sex with him.
The post was quickly deleted and she subsequently disappeared from the public eye along with mentions of her disappearance from Chinese websites, prompting concern from the global tennis community and human rights groups.
Peng resurfaced several weeks later, and in her first interview in December, she denied making the sexual assault charges.
France’s Alize Cornet, who was the first player to publicly voice her concerns about Peng, said of the T-shirt incident: “When I heard that, I was surprised.” I think everyone should be able to show their support for Peng Shuai.
The WTA has taken a tough stance in favor of Peng, suspending tournaments in China, which has become his most important market.
Cornet said, “It’s still unclear how she’s doing, but I think bringing this story to light has been good for her overall.” Now, of course, we’re all waiting for more details that we don’t have so far, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.