Organisers of the Australian Open have reversed a ban put in place last week on T-shirts sporting the slogan “Where is Peng Shuai?”
Spectators were instructed to remove and dispose of clothing and banners supporting the Chinese tennis player before entering the grounds.
In a follow up statement, Tennis Australia said the wellbeing of Peng remains a “primary concern” but “political slogans” are not permitted at events.
The ban sparked hefty backlash within the tennis community. Martina Navratilova hit out at the decision to revoke the merchandise and branded it as a “cowardly” move.
“I think they are wrong on this,” the 18-time Grand Slam winner said. “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 the outcry, the Australian Open has doubled back on the ban and organisers are permitting match goers to wear the T-shirts, providing there is no “intent to disrupt” the event.
“If someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai that’s fine,” said Chief executive of Tennis Australia Craig Tiley.
However, banners remain prohibited due to them taking away from “the comfort and safety of the fans.”
Supporters and professionals alike remain determined to keep pushing for answers on Peng’s wellbeing and whereabouts. The former doubles world number one disappeared from the public eye back in November after publicly accusing former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual misconduct.
Peng was pictured at social events some weeks later and appeared on a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.
A dubious letter purportedly written by the tennis star was also published by Chinese state media claiming “everything is fine.”
The likes of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have rallied on social media to keep Peng’s name in the spotlight, using the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai.
Other big names within the sport such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have urged for more information on the safety of Peng.
The WTA has stressed its commitment to finding answers, and stated it remains “deeply concerned” over her wellbeing after CEO Steve Simon ruled an email exchange between him and Peng was “not free from censorship or coercion” on her part.