Tennis Australia reverses 'Where is Peng Shuai?' T-shirt ban at Australian Open

The Australian Open organiser has bowed to public pressure to allow attendees to wear the T-shirts that raise concerns over the wellbeing of the Chinese tennis player.

China's Peng Shuai reacts during her first round singles match against Japan's Nao Hibino at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne.

China's Peng Shuai playing at the 2020 Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne. Source: AP

Tennis Australia has reversed its decision to ban “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts that reference the disappearance of the star Chinese tennis player.

The tennis body has confirmed to SBS News that the wearing of the T-shirts will be permitted at the Australian Open, but large banners could still be barred due to safety concerns. 

The move comes after widespread backlash to footage of security and police at Melbourne Park on Saturday, who were pictured ordering two spectators to remove their T-shirts and a banner with the message “Where is Peng Shuai?”. 

Tennis Australia had said the T-shirts were confiscated because they were deemed political, which contravened its ticketing policy.

A spokesperson said the body would now take a common-sense approach to its ticketing conditions and would allow certain messaging as long as there was no disruption to the event.

Concerns over the Chinese tennis player gained worldwide attention when she alleged former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her in the past.  

She disappeared from public view for almost three weeks after she posted the claims on Chinese social media.

In late December, Peng retracted her allegations in an interview with a Singapore media outlet.

She has appeared only rarely on Chinese social media since early November. 

Her absence from the Australian Open has also renewed concerns from advocates about her wellbeing.

Advocates have called on people to continue to wear the T-shirts at the event to bring attention to concerns about Peng's safety and wellbeing.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton had earlier described the situation as a “human rights issue” and not a “political one” that must be addressed.

“This is about a women whose claimed to have been raped - she’s had to withdraw those claims but no one has been able to contest that circumstance because she’s not permitted to leave Beijing,” he said. 

“I think it’s wrong that we just sit in silence when we know someone who is making serious claims like this isn’t allow to answer questions about those claims or elaborate on those.” 

Mr Dutton said he understood the challenge faced by Tennis Australia, but people should be allowed to speak up over the concerns.

“We owe it to her and many others to step up and I think it’s best to be very honest about that,” he said.

3 min read
Published 25 January 2022 at 3:28pm
By Tom Stayner
Source: SBS