Rachel Fieldhouse


Mon, 24 Jan, 2022

Peng Shuai T-shirt scandal puts Tennis Australia in hot water

Peng Shuai T-shirt scandal puts Tennis Australia in hot water

Australian Open organisers are at the centre of even more criticism over their handling of spectators with items asking “where is Peng Shuai?”.

Tennis Australia (TA) has stood by its decision after footage emerged of security and police requesting a fan remove her shirt calling for the Chinese tennis player’s fate to be addressed.

Ms Shuai gained worldwide attention after she “disappeared” following a post she shared on social media containing allegations of sexual abuse against a former high-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party. 

Though she has since been seen in videos and photos shared by Chinese state media, many have expressed concerns that those were staged and activists have questioned whether she is able to act freely.

The video of the scene at Melbourne Park ended with police saying TA was permitted to confiscate any material referencing Ms Shuai.

A TA spokesperson told News Corp Australia that the organisation feared for Ms Shuai’s safety, but that fans were not allowed to make political statements with clothing at the Australian Open.

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

“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her wellbeing.”

Drew Pavlou shared footage online of his friend Max Mok and another person being asked by security about their clothes - including shirts which said “Where is Peng Shuai?” - and later by police.

Mr Mok slammed the TA’s reaction, telling Nine newspapers it was a hypocritical decision.

“I can remember him  (the security guard) saying over and over that he had been instructed by someone higher up to confiscate (the Peng items),” Mr Mok said.

“On top of that, he also kept saying - and I don’t think this was in the video - but he kept saying he had eyes and ears everywhere, you can’t hide, things like that. Who exactly am I hiding from?

“He said someone found it political and reported it, but couldn’t say who.

“I would be surprised if someone at the ground reported us.”

Mr Pavlou also spruiked a GoFundMe page to print more “Where is Peng Shuai?” shirts, revealing on Twitter that it had amassed nearly $6,000 in donations.

Mr Mok said the TA’s treatment of him was hypocritical considering its claims that Ms Shuai’s safety was its “primary concern”, and hoped that more people would follow their lead and show their support for the tennis star.

“Hypocrisy is an understatement. It’s not sincere, and it’s just a way for them (TA) to avoid a PR disaster,” he told Nine.

“You can see that from the huge amount of support that we’ve got from the public. If we had less support, this could have gone very wrong.

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

Many have shared their criticisms of the organisation online, while some have pointed out the double standard between spectators and journalists with questions about the missing player.

“Interestingly, journalists can ask questions about the Peng Shuai situation to players, but fans, seemingly, aren’t allowed to,” journalist Matt Walsh wrote.

Comedian Shaun Micallef also weighed in, questioning why asking about Ms Shuai’s whereabouts was a political statement in the eyes of TA.

“Only in mainland China would asking after somebody’s whereabouts be regarded as a political statement,” he wrote.

“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.”

Multiple players have been asked about Ms Shuai during the first week of the competition, with Aussie star Ash Barty saying she hoped she was doing OK.

“Hopefully it’s not too long until we see her back out here,” Barty said.

When asked whether she was concerned that something “sinister” was at play, Barty said she didn’t have the knowledge to answer.

Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, who is a member of the WTA Player Council, also spoke about Ms Shuai, saying the association’s main goal was to hear from her personally, while Japan’s Naomi Osaka said she hadn’t heard any news either.

“I’m not sure if that’s concerning or not,” she said. 

“I feel like it’s a situation where we need more information, which is definitely really hard. Kind of, I think everyone’s waiting.”

Image: @CaraMia200 (Twitter)