Navratilova says Tennis Australia 'capitulating' to China over Peng

24 January 2022 - 09:55
By Reuters
Fans seen relaxing outside the Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.
Image: @AustralianOpen/Twitter Fans seen relaxing outside the Rod Laver Arena at Melbourne Park.

Martina Navratilova said Australian Open organisers had acted "cowardly" by preventing fans from wearing shirts bearing messages of support for Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai at the Grand Slam event.

After video emerged of security officials and police instructing fans on Saturday to remove shirts with the slogan, "Where is Peng Shuai?" on them, Tennis Australia (TA) defended its stance by saying the tournament does not allow political statements.

"Under our ticket conditions of entry we don't allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political," TA said in a statement.

TA's position dismayed 18-times Grand Slam winner Navratilova, who said they were "capitulating" to China and placing sponsorship money ahead of human rights concerns.

"I find it really, really cowardly," she said on the US-based Tennis Channel.

"I think they are wrong on this. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.

"(Tennis Australia is) just really capitulating on this issue ... letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own Slam. I just find it really weak."

TA has not responded to Reuters request for comment on the comments.

Peng's well-being became a matter of concern among the global tennis community in November when she appeared to allege that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her in the past.

After that post, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.

Last month she said she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that a social media post she had made had been misunderstood.

The WTA suspended tournaments in China due to what its concerns over Peng's safety.

French player Nicolas Mahut also slammed TA's response, tweeting: "What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors."

Baijiu distillery Luzhu Laojiao is a sponsor of the event.

On Monday, Peng supporters in Australia said they were planning to hand out 1,000 "Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts at Melbourne Park this week after raising more than $10,000 on a GoFundMe page.

"We can see how many match-goers that they can stop," activist Max Mok told Australian ABC Radio.