Tennis Australia (TA) has overturned its ban on spectators wearing the “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts but will not yet support the display of protest banners on the issue.
This comes after the tournament experienced intense criticism for defending the Australian Open security guard who confiscated a pro-Peng Shuai banner of two spectators and asked them to take off their shirts with a slogan supporting the Chinese tennis star.
TA has previously noted it has a “longstanding policy of not allowing banners, signs or clothing that are commercial or political” and would continue to prohibit any items that “compromise the safety and comfort” of AO fans.
Tennis Australia told The Epoch Times on Tuesday that it will be taking a “common sense approach” to “the enforcement of the terms and conditions of entry to the site.”
This comes after TA boss Craig Tiley told the Australian Financial Review on the same day that those wearing the “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts would be allowed to enter as long as they were “not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful.”
“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,” he said.
“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,” he said, adding that security would make case-by-case assessments.
The backflip comes after legendary women’s tennis great Martina Navratilova accused the Australian Open organisers of “capitulating” to Beijing after it banished pro-Peng Shuai fans from Melbourne Park for refusing to remove their shirts with messages of support for the Chinese doubles player.
“Sport has always been on the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we are going backwards. I find it really, really cowardly,” she told Tennis Channel.
“I think they’re wrong on this. This is not a political statement; this is a human rights statement. And chances are Peng Shuai may be playing here but, she couldn’t get out of the country?”
Action taken by security staff on Friday was based on suspicions over “the motive and intent of the person coming in,” Tiley told Reuters on Tuesday.
“If they continue to be persistent, they will be removed from the site, but if someone wants to wear a T-shirt, supporting Peng Shuai that’s fine or doing other things, that’s fine.”
The decision was announced after Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton called the ban on the Peng Shuai T-shirts “deeply concerning” and called for TA to “speak up” about the sexual harassment issue.
Meanwhile, NSW Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes alleged the tournament was “kowtowing to China” because several Chinese companies are major sponsors of the AO.
Hongkonger Australian human rights activist Max Mok, who recorded the video on Friday of the security guard confiscating the shirts and banner, applauded the decision and noted that 1,000 T-shirts would be distributed on Saturday at the women’s AO final.
“Let’s hope Tennis Australia keep to their promise and let the crowd wear them,” Mok said, the ABC reported on Tuesday.
But human rights activist Drew Pavlou, who posted the video of his associate Max Mok being barred from entry on Twitter on Jan. 21, said he would not be “crediting Tennis Australia with anything on this.”
“They really caved when you had government ministers condemning them, they really cave when they had lawyers saying there’s a potential human rights case here. So really, they’re just trying to cover their own backside,” he said, The Australian reported.
The safety of Peng, an Olympian and former World doubles No. 1, continues to concern the global tennis community after she alleged sexual assault by former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli on Weibo in November.