Australian Open t-shirt ban provokes backlash

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Tue, 25/01/2022
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The decision by organisers of the Australian Open to ban t-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has provoked a backlash. 

Former multiple Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova has branded the move as pathetic, while other players have suggested that pressure had been brought to bear by Chinese sponsors.

Meanwhile, a leading international human rights group has called on other players in the tournament to continue to bring attention to the plight of Peng.

On Friday, security staff at the gate had asked spectators to remove t-shirts bearing the message Where is Peng Shuai? banners were also confiscated from two spectators.

The incident prompted the creation of a GoFundMe page that promised to print more t-shirts. That has already received more than AUD 10,000 (ÉUR 5,200) in contributions.

The Ladies final on Saturday may be the scene for more sustained protests.

Justifying its actions, Tennis Australia clarified that its ticketing conditions mention entry banned political statements of any kind. Fans are not allowed to enter the venues of the Melbourne tennis complex bearing slogans or carrying banners that are either overtly commercial or political in nature.

They have also denied there being any link between their actions and the fact that Chinese liquor company Luzhou Laojiao and mattress manufacturer DeRucci are listed as major sponsors on their website.

In November, Peng had posted a message on Chinese social media, alleging sexual abuse by a retired senior Communist Party official. She subsequently retracted the claim, which has raised grave concerns in women’s tennis for her safety, over fears that she is acting under duress.

A number of leading players have spoken of their fears for her well-being. The WTA subsequently imposed a ban on all international tournaments taking place in mainland China for the foreseeable future.

To be fair, the Australian Open are not alone among sporting events when it comes to banning political statements. Wimbledon has similar policies in place. And last week, it was also made clear that any athlete at the Beijing Winter Olympics risked losing accreditation if they chose to make such a statement on Chinese soil.