Eighteen-time Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova laid into the Australian Open on Sunday, following reports that Tennis Australia forced fans of the Australian Open to remove t-shirts with the words “Where is Peng Shuai.”
“Sports has always been at the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward,” Navratilova said on Sunday. “And we are going backwards, uphill. We’ve had the issue with Peng Shuai, ‘Where is Peng Shuai.’ And now, there were fans at the tournament watching — at a practice, 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. And the Australian Open issued a proclamation that’s just not acceptable. I find it really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement. This is a human rights statement.”
“I think they’re wrong on this,” Navratilova added.
WTA fall tournaments in China remain up in the air and updates on Peng Shuai continue to raise concern.
— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) January 23, 2022
According to ESPN, video of security asking the fans to remove the t-shirts was uploaded to TikTok, where officials can be heard saying that “political slogans” are not allowed at the Australian Open.
“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson told Guardian Australia. “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 wellbeing.”
Peng’s safety has been a concern since her November 2nd social media post in which she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her three years ago following a round of tennis. She also said Zhang’s wife guarded the door. Her post was deleted nearly 30 minutes after publication and Peng’s account on Weibo — a Chinese social media platform — was blocked from searchers on the platform.
Peng was not seen or heard from publicly until a November 17 statement attributed to Peng was shared on Twitter by CGTN — a Chinese state-affiliated media company — where Peng denied her claim that Zhang sexually assaulted her.
The IOC has held two calls with Peng, including a December 2nd call that “reconfirmed” that Peng appeared to be “appeared to be safe and well.”
Shortly after the second call with the IOC, the Women’s Tennis Association announced a suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including in Hong Kong.
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way,” WTA CEO Steve Simon wrote in a statement to the WTA website. “While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.”
Navratilova lauded the WTA for their approach to Peng’s safety, once again ripping Tennis Australia for their stance.
“The WTA has been so strong on this issue … and the players, really taking a chance on their pocket book,” Navratilova said. “The ATP was pretty weak on this. The IOC, well we know where they are. And just really capitulating on this issue from the Aussies, letting China dictate what they do at their own slam.”
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
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