Australian Open Removes Ban on Peng Shuai T-Shirts at Tennis Tournament

Tennis Australia previously asked fans to remove shirts with the slogan "Where is Peng Shuai?"

Peng Shuai of China celebrates a shot at the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open. The Australian Open has removed a ban on Where Is Peng Shuai? T-shirts after backlash.
Peng Shuai of China celebrates a shot at the 2020 WTA Shenzhen Open.
Zhong Zhi/Getty

After blowing an opportunity to take a stand against Novak Djokovic and his vaccination status before the government stepped in and sent the world No. 1 packing, Tennis Australia again came down on the wrong side of history by asking fans at the Australian Open to remove T-shirts featuring the slogan “Where is Peng Shuai?” in reference to the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Chinese tennis player’s well-being and whereabouts.

At the time, Tennis Australia defended having security force spectators at Melbourne Park, the site of the tennis tournament, to remove their shirts on the grounds that the organization prohibits “clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political.”

“People have strongly held personal and political views on a range of issues,” Tennis Australia said in a later statement. “Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to do everything we can to ensure her well-being. Our work is ongoing and through the appropriate channels.”

After facing some well-deserved backlash for the restrictive stance, Tennis Australia will allow fans at the Australian Open to wear protest T-shirts and voice their support of the Chinese tennis player as long as they don’t disrupt the event.

“If they want to do that, that’s fine,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley told the Associated Press about fans wearing shirts supporting Peng. “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.”

Officials were probably smart to reverse the ban as there are reports that activists are planning to distribute hundreds of shirts branded with the Peng Shuai question in time for the Australian Open women’s final on Saturday.

In November, Peng posted on social media that she was sexually assaulted by a former vice premier of China, after which she disappeared for a time. The posts have been deleted, and she subsequently retracted the allegations to a Chinese-language newspaper, but concerns for her safety remain.

As for Peng’s current condition, former NBA star Yao Ming revealed earlier this week that he spoke with her at a winter sports exhibition they both attended in December.

“She was in pretty good condition that day,” Ming said of the conversation. “We were all chatting happily and asking a lot of questions about the sport since we weren’t familiar with it. We asked many questions about the game as we were not familiar with snow sports.”

Now if only someone would answer the question being posed at the Open: where is Peng Shuai?

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