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Navratilova hits Australian Open’s ban on T-shirts supporting Peng Shuai



Former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova on Monday, 24 January said that the Australian Open organizer’s ban on T-shirts that feature messages supporting Peng Shuai was “just pathetic” and that the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) stands pretty much alone on this.

The Chinese tennis star, 35, accused China’s 75-year-old former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him in a lengthy post uploaded to Weibo in November last year. Peng sparked global concern about her safety when she vanished from public view after posting the allegations online.

Even though she had later toned down or denied some of her allegations, it is generally believed that she made such changes under duress.

The WTA has suspended all of its tournaments in China over the issue and spearheaded calls for an investigation into her initial claims.

A human rights activist started a GoFundMe page two days ago with the goal of collecting enough funds to print off 1,000 T-shirts bearing the slogan — “Where is Peng Shuai?” — and giving them out for free to Australian Open spectators.

The crowdfunding page almost reached its goal of raising AU$15,000 in two days.

A video that shows an Australian Open security guard trying to force activists to take off their “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts has been circulating on social media.

Tennis Australia said Sunday that they do not allow banners or T-shirts that are deemed to be promoting political sentiments.

Later a police officer is heard telling the fans that Tennis Australia has set the rules to allow it to confiscate any banner or T-shirt that is deemed to be promoting political sentiments.

French player Nico Mahut, who suffered a first-round exit at the Australian Open, questioned whether Tennis Australia’s ban on the Peng Shuai shirts had been commercially motivated. He tweeted on Sunday, “What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors,” with the hashtag #beyonddisappointed.

Many high-profile Australian Open players have on different occasions expressed their wish to hear from Peng first hand to make sure she is safe. (Courtesy of Taiwan News)