'Really weak': Tennis Australia savaged over Peng Shuai 'hypocrisy'

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The Australian Open, pictured here banning Peng Shuai messages despite being sponsored by Chinese companies.
The Australian Open has banned Peng Shuai messages but is sponsored by Chinese companies. Image: Getty/Twitter

Tennis Australia is being accused of hypocrisy after a spectator was forced to remove a t-shirt and banner referencing Chinese star Peng Shuai.

Video emerged over the weekend of Melbourne Park security and police asking a spectator to change a t-shirt saying: "Where is Peng Shuai?"

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The spectator also had a banner asking the same question that was confiscated by security.

“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson said on Sunday.

“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 disappeared from public view for around three weeks in December after making sexual assault allegations against a former Chinese premier.

While she has since reappeared in public, there are lingering concerns that she is being censored and forced to retract her allegations.

Max Mok, the person who was forced to remove the Peng gear, told The Age: “Hypocrisy is an understatement.

"It’s not sincere, and it’s just a way for [Tennis Australia] to avoid a PR disaster.

“If Tennis Australia is serious about the movement, they’ll let people in (with Peng-related items). Time will tell which side they’re on.

“Regardless, it will be a good message to send not just to Australia, but internationally. Imagine a whole court filled with ‘Free Peng Shuai’ shirts?”

The Peng Shuai shirts, pictured here after they were banned by Tennis Australia officials.
The Peng Shuai shirts that were banned by Tennis Australia officials. Image: Twitter

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Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was among the many to take aim at Tennis Australia over the debacle, calling the move "cowardly".

“This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement,” she said on the Tennis Channel.

“I think they (TA) are wrong on this. I just find it really weak.

“Just really capitulating on this issue from the Aussies, letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own slam for their own player, the player that has been there (Melbourne Park) before."

In the same segment, tennis reporter Jon Wertheim suggested there were ulterior motives at play for Tennis Australia due to their Chinese sponsorships.

Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios, pictured here in front of 1573 signage at the Australian Open.
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Nick Kyrgios stand in front of 1573 signage at the Australian Open. (Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Chinese distillery Luzhou Laojiao is one of the Australian Open's leading sponsors, with the 1573 logo appearing all over Melbourne Park - referencing the company's history which dates back to 1573.

One court was even renamed to '1573 Arena' in 2019, while Tennis Australia’s chief revenue officer Richard Heaselgrave once said the deal with Luzhou Laojiao was "one of the largest deals that Tennis Australia has ever negotiated".

Wertheim said on Sunday: “When we watch these matches you will note the Chinese signage at the Australian Open, which some might suspect has a lot to do with this beyond political speech.

“If ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ is political speech we’ve gone down the slippery slope.”

Retired French player Nicholas Mahut also tweeted: "What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors #1573".

American great Lindsay Davenport added: “It’s just been absolutely heartbreaking and the WTA with so much good, strong language when this first went down and unfortunately the story just seems to … be pushed to the back.”

The outrage was also flying thick and fast on social media.

“How is asking ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ political? Could possibly understand not wanting ‘Sack ScoMo’ or ‘Andrews is a POS’ signs but this is something else again," tweeted Daily Telegraph federal politics editor James Morrow.

Comedian Shaun Micallef wrote: “Only in mainland China would asking after somebody’s whereabouts be regarded as a political statement.

“I get if a hotel says ‘No thongs’, asks you to leave and then calls the police if you don’t because the police can see that you’re wearing thongs. I don’t think the police can look at a ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirt and just as easily tell that it’s a political statement.”

And broadcast veteran Stephen Quartermain tweeted: “Really bad call by Australian Open on the Peng Shuai situation.

"After the Djokovic saga … All their goodwill built up over many glorious years is quickly evaporating.”

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