Peng Shuai: Martina Navratilova criticises Australian Open organisers for preventing fans wearing shirts in support of Chinese player
WTA has suspended tournaments in China due to concerns over treatment of Peng following her allegation that China's former vice-premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her; Tennis Australia says Peng's safety remains its "primary concern"
Last Updated: 25/01/22 4:59am
Martina Navratilova says Australian Open organisers were 'cowardly' to prevent fans from wearing shirts bearing messages of support for Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai at Grand Slam.
After video emerged of security officials and police instructing fans on Saturday to remove shirts with the slogan, "Where is Peng Shuai?" on them, Tennis Australia (TA) defended its stance by saying the tournament does not allow political statements.
TA's position dismayed 18-time Grand Slam winner Navratilova, who said on the US-based Tennis Channel: "I find it really, really cowardly.
"I think they are wrong on this. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement."
Tennis Australia reiterated its stance on Monday, adding that Peng's safety remained its "primary concern".
"We understand and appreciate that people have strongly held personal and political views on a range of issues," TA said in a statement.
"Peng Shuai's safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to do everything we can to ensure her wellbeing. Our work is ongoing and through the appropriate channels. Today we have again reiterated our strong support to the WTA and we extend this to all the players.
"To ensure that the Australian Open remains a welcoming, safe and inclusive event for everyone, we have a longstanding policy of not allowing banners, signs or clothing that are commercial or political.
"On this occasion, the security guard was simply enforcing this policy and while we have reviewed this and are happy to welcome the patron back to Melbourne Park, the policy will continue to be applied in relation to any items that compromise the safety and comfort of AO fans."
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Peng's situation became a matter of concern in November when she alleged that a former Chinese vice premier, Zhang Gaoli, had sexually assaulted her in the past. After that post, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.
Last month she denied ever accusing anyone of sexual assault and said a social media post she had written had been misunderstood.
The WTA suspended tournaments in China due to its concerns over Peng's safety.