Tennis great Martina Navratilova has accused the Australian Open of being “cowardly” and “capitulating” to China by preventing fans from wearing T-shirts showing support for Peng Shuai.
The Chinese tennis player disappeared from public view for nearly three weeks in November 2021 when she appeared to accuse a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her in the past.
Last month she denied ever accusing anyone of sexual assault and said a social media post she had written had been misunderstood.
Image: Martina Navratilova has criticised the Australian Open
There remain concerns about her well-being and the World Tennis Association has suspended tournaments in China.
After video emerged of security officials and police telling fans to remove shirts with the slogan “Where is Peng Shuai?” at the Australian Open on Saturday, Tennis Australia (TA) defended its stance by saying the tournament doesn’t allow political statements.
Australia’s tennis governing body said in a statement: “Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political.”
Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam winner, accused Tennis Australia of “capitulating” to China and putting sponsorship money ahead of human rights concerns.
She told the US-based Tennis Channel: “I find it really, really cowardly.
“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.”
French player Nicolas Mahut also slammed TA’s response, tweeting: “What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors.”
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 (£5,287) on a GoFundMe page.
“We can see how many match-goers that they can stop,” activist Max Mok told Australian ABC Radio.
Source : Sky News