Tennis Australia walks back Peng Shuai t-shirt ban

(Fred Lee/Getty Images)

The Australian Open has reversed its ban on shirts that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” following widespread backlash. Banners will still be prohibited, however.

Last week, spectators were asked to remove shirts referencing the Chinese player, who has been at the center of an ongoing international controversy after she accused a senior Chinese official of sexual assault in November. Much of the discussion since has been centered around Peng’s safety and wellbeing.

At the time of the incident, Tennis Australia claimed the shirts constituted “commercial or political” material, which is prohibited according to the rules. The organization maintained that Peng’s safety is its “primary concern” despite banning the banner and t-shirts.

Since the allegations, Peng has resurfaced and walked back her allegations, although some question her ability to do so freely. The WTA has responded harshly to China, pulling all tournaments out of the country until further notice.

On Sunday, 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova condemned the move by Tennis Australia as “cowardly.”

“Sport has always been on the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we are going backwards I feel,” she said. “This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.”

Tennis Australia chief executive and tournament director Craig Tiley said on Tuesday that the shirt ban would be reversed, so long as the spectators would behave properly. Due to safety concerns, banners are still barred from the event.

“As long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful,” Tiley told ESPN. “It’s all been a bit lost in translation from some people who are not here and don’t really know the full view. The situation in the last couple of days is that some people came with a banner on two large poles and we can’t allow that.

“If you are coming to watch the tennis that’s fine, but we can’t allow anyone to cause a disruption at the end of the day.”