Australian Open authorities will overturn their ban on controversial t-shirts worn by supporters of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai.
In a stunning backflip, tournament director Craig Tiley has told news agency AFP that the ban on fans wearing the t-shirts will be lifted.
‘As long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful,’ Mr Tiley told AFP.
‘It’s all been a bit lost in translation from some people who are not here and don’t really know the full view.
‘The situation in the last couple of days is that some people came with a banner on two large poles and we can’t allow that.
‘If you are coming to watch the tennis that’s fine, but we can’t allow anyone to cause a disruption at the end of the day.’
An Australian Open fan has been forced to remove a shirt expressing welfare concerns for tennis star Peng Shuai who disappeared after accusing a senior Chinese politician of rape
Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai vanished from public view for three weeks last year after making a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo on November 2 accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her in 2017
The decision follows the controversy that grew after footage emerged of event security guards and police demanding a spectator remove her shirt at the grand slam over the weekend.
The activist’s shirt featured the words ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ on the back, with a photo of her face and ‘wanted’ printed on the front.
The man filming the confrontation can be heard asking the guard ‘what do you suggest she wear?’ after the woman was ordered to take off her clothing.
Ms Shuai vanished from public view for three weeks last year after making a post on Chinese social media platform Weibo on November 2 accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her in 2017.
In the footage, a police officer informs the pair wearing the shirts that guests aren’t allowed to take ‘political slogans’ into the tennis tournament.
‘This isn’t a political message,’ the male activist responds.
‘This isn’t saying vote for the Liberal or Labour party. This is a female tennis player who is being persecuted and the Women’s Tennis Association has spoken out for her. We are simply [reiterating] what the WTA is saying.’
The cop said he understood what the pair were saying, but ‘Tennis Australia sets the rules’.
Tennis Australia had earlier released a statement saying it prohibits ‘clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political’
Tennis Australia then released a statement saying it prohibits ‘clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political’.
‘Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern,’ TA claimed. ‘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.’
The organisation also faced accusations of censorship over the ruling on the t-shirts, including suggestions it was protecting a lucrative $100million sponsorship deal with a Chinese liquor company.
Federal Defence Minister Peter Dutton was among those to criticise the organisation for asking the fans to remove the t-shirts.
‘We don’t want to drag sport into politics. But this is not a political issue,’ Mr Dutton said on Sky News.
‘It’s a human rights issue. And it’s frankly about the treatment of a young woman who is claiming that she has been sexually assaulted.’
Female tennis legend Martina Navratilova had also criticised Tennis Australia over the issue, accusing it of ‘cowardice’.
French player Alize Cornet was the first to ask the question, where is Peng Shuai? on social media back in November
Female quarter-finalist Alize Cornet, who has been a prominent supporter of the campaign to find out what happened to Ms Shuai and was the first to ask the question, where is Peng Shuai?, on social media in November, also commented on the controversy after her Round 4 victory over Simona Halep.
‘When I heard that, I was surprised. I think everybody should be able to manifest their support for Peng Shuai,’ the 32-year-old French player said.
‘I felt like it was my duty as a player who knew her for a long time to just ask what’s going on.
‘I’m very happy all these people followed me after that. It’s still very unsure how she’s doing, but I think putting some light on this story was good for her overall.’
The latest decision caps a disastrous tournament for Tennis Australia, after its role in allowing star Novak Djokovic to fly to Australia under a Covid vaccine exemption only for his visa to be revoked and his subsequent deportation.