Martina Navratilova has accused Tennis Australia of taking a “weak and cowardly” approach by banning t-shirts supporting Peng Shuai at the Australian Open.
In November 2021, Peng accused a former Chinese Communist party vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, of alleged sexual coercion three years previous.
Her Weibo social media account has since been disabled and her public appearances have been sporadic since. That prompted concern around the world, including from professional tennis players, about her safety and whereabouts.
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And the tennis great, who has 59 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles, has been vocal in her criticism of Tennis Australia – previously saying the approach to blocking the “Where is Peng Shuai?” items is “pathetic” in a post on Twitter.
The WTA has reportedly requested stronger evidence that Peng is safe and well and the tour will not hold events in China until it is satisfied.
“Sports has always been kind of on the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we are going backwards I feel,” Navratilova told the Tennis Channel.
“We’ve had the issue with Peng Shuai, and now there were fans at the tournament watching Naomi Osaka practise, 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 it really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.
“Kind of really capitulating on this issue from the Aussies and letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own Slam. I just find it really weak.”
Tennis Australia released a statement on Sunday regarding the incident.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a spokesperson said.
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being.”
A number of players have voiced their concerns for Peng throughout the tournament, including quarter-finalist Alize Cornet, who said: “It’s still very unsure how she’s doing but I think the fact to put some lights on this story was good for her overall. Now we are of course all waiting for more details that we don’t have so far, but we keep our fingers crossed.”
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