Australian Open: Martina Navrátilová slams 'cowardly' Peng Shuai t-shirt ban

Martina Navrátilová Peng Shuai

Martina Navrátilová has hit out at Australian Open organisers after fan merchandise sporting the slogan ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ was banned. 

On Friday, spectators were instructed to remove t-shirts supporting the Chinese tennis star before entering the grounds.

Many fans and professionals are working to keep Peng’s name on the radar as concerns over her wellbeing continue to grow.

Back in November 2021, Peng disappeared from the public eye after accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct. 

The former doubles world number one made the accusations on social media platform Weibo but the post was removed soon after and Peng was not heard from for weeks following.

Her disappearance sparked global concern, resulting in the likes of Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, and Andy Murray calling for answers and clarity that the Chinese star is safe.

Since widespread concern rushed through the sporting world, Peng has been pictured at social events and on a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

She also recently denied making the claims against Gaoli, stating she “never wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me.”

Despite returning to the public eye, the WTA is unsatisfied with these appearances as proof the 36-year-old is acting under free will and not being censored.

Peng Shuai

In order to continue conversation about Peng, supporters and professionals alike have been doing all they can to keep her name in the spotlight. The most recent attempt was the ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ merchandise at one of the biggest sporting events of the year.

Martina Navrátilová has blasted Tennis Australia for banning the t-shirts and signs.

“That’s just pathetic. The WTA stands pretty much alone on this!!!” the former world number one wrote on Twitter.

Navrátilová also spoke about the issue on the US-based Tennis Channel, branding the decision to censor the message as “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.”

Since November, WTA CEO Steve Simon has made contact with Peng, but concluded her responses were clearly “influenced by others” and that she is “not free from censorship or coercion.”

The tennis body remains “deeply concerned” over Peng’s wellbeing and whereabouts. Many social media users also continue to use the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai to keep her name on the radar.

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