Martina Navratilova, a retired tennis player, has slammed the Australian Open’s decision to prohibit T-shirts supporting Chinese player Peng Shuai.
On Friday, security personnel instructed spectators seeking to access the grounds to take off T-shirts that read “Where is Peng Shuai?”
After accusing a high Chinese official of sexual misconduct in November, Ms Peng vanished for weeks.
She has now reappeared, but many people are still worried about her health.
Tennis Australia, which organises the Australian Open, said in a statement that Peng Shuai’s safety was their “top concern,” but supported their decision to confiscate the T-shirt and banner.
“We do not allow commercial or political attire, banners, or signs under our ticket conditions of entry,” it stated.
Navratilova, the former world female number one tennis player, termed the decision “pathetic” in a tweet.
Nicolas Mahut, a French tennis player, also commented on the situation, implying that the organisers were caving in to pressure from significant Chinese business sponsors.
On the Australia Open website, two of the key partners are mentioned as Luzhou Laojiao, a Chinese premium liquor company, and DeRucci, a mattress company.
“What the hell is going on!? What a lack of bravery! What would you do if you didn’t have Chinese backers?” Mr. Mahut sent out a tweet.
Sophie McNeill, an Australian researcher for Human Rights Watch, termed Tennis Australia’s decision “not cool,” and urged other tennis players in the competition to raise awareness about Peng Shuai.
Following the event on Friday, a Gofundme page was set up, promising to manufacture more T-shirts if the goal of AUD$10,000 was met.
International sporting events frequently have laws prohibiting what the organisers consider to be political remarks. From the grounds of Wimbledon, “any objects or clothes expressing… political views, disagreeable or offensive sentiments” are prohibited.
Ms Peng accused former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him in a 1,600-word note posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo in November.
She suddenly vanished from public view, causing widespread worry among the worldwide tennis community, fans, and human rights organisations.
She reappeared a few weeks later, and in her first media interview since then, she denied making any sexual assault charges and claimed her social media post had caused “a lot of misconceptions.”