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A group of fans at the Australian Open were asked by security to remove custom T-shirts that read, “Where is Peng Shuai?” on Saturday.
The shirts — referencing the disappearance of the Chinese tennis player after she made sexual assault allegations against a retired government official in November — were apparently a violation of the tournament’s policy.
"Under our ticket conditions of entry we don't allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political," a Tennis Australia spokesperson said, via ESPN. "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 well-being."
Videos surfaced on social media showing fans at the tournament speaking with security officials and police officers about the shirts and a banner they had.
"The Australian Open does have a rule that there can't be any political slogans ... it's a rule that it's a condition of entry," an officer can be heard saying.
"Tennis Australia does set the rules, and regardless of what you're saying — and I'm not saying you can't have those views — but I am saying that Tennis Australia sets the rules here.”
Video Part Two - Australian Open security call in police on human rights activists @pakchoi_boi @maxmokchito for wearing “Free Peng Shuai” shirts, try seize banner. I tried to reason with police over phone - how is it political to simply speak up for Peng Shuai’s rights? pic.twitter.com/duk36K06ki
— Drew Pavlou For Senate (@DrewPavlou) January 21, 2022
Peng, 35, wrote in a post on Weibo in November accusing retired vice premier Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into having sex after he and his wife invited her to their home for a meal in 2018. Zhang is in his 70s.
Her post was pulled from the social media website within 30 minutes, and Peng wasn’t seen for weeks — which led to intense backlash and concern from some of the sports’ biggest stars.
Peng later was seen in public and walked back both her accusations and said that she was safe, though concern for her safety didn’t go away. The WTA eventually said it would pull out of China completely, something that will undoubtedly result in a massive financial loss for the Tour.
"I imagine myself in her shoes, and in that way, it's a little bit scary," Naomi Osaka said at the Australian Open last week, via ESPN. "You kind of want to lend your voice and you want people to, you know, ask the questions."