Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai sparked global concern when she vanished from public view after posting allegations of sexual assault online
The organisers of the Australian Open have reversed a ban on T-shirts supporting Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai after a global outcry.
Last Friday, security staff had asked spectators to remove T-shirts and a banner saying “Where is Peng Shuai?” before entering the grounds.
Ms Peng vanished for weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual misconduct in November.
She has since re-appeared, but many remain concerned about her wellbeing.
Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia – the organising body behind the Australian Open – told reporters they would now allow spectators to wear the T-shirt as long as they attended without the “intent to disrupt” and were “peaceful”.
“If someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai that’s fine,” he was quoted as saying in The Sydney Morning Herald.
But he added that banners would still not be allowed as “it really takes away from the comfort and safety of the fans”, and that security staff would make decisions on a case-by-case basis.
The reversal comes less than 24 hours after Tennis Australia had defended their ban, saying that under their ticket conditions of entry they did not allow “clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political”.
The decision was met with fierce criticism from human rights groups and the international tennis community, with some suggesting that organisers were bowing to pressure from major Chinese corporate sponsors.
Friday’s incident also sparked the creation of a Gofundme page that promised to print out more T-shirts after reaching its AUD$10,000 (£5,296; $7,179) goal.
Tennis Australia is not the only body that has terms and conditions governing spectators’ attire and conduct.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club, which organises Wimbledon, prohibits “any objects or clothing bearing… political statements, objectionable or offensive statements” from the tournament grounds.
In November, Ms Peng posted a 1,600-word note on Chinese social media platform Weibo, accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.
She then vanished from the public eye, triggering a wave of global concern among the international tennis community, fans and human rights groups over her whereabouts.
She resurfaced weeks later, and in her first media interview in December following her reappearance, she denied making any accusations of sexual assault and claimed her social media post had faced “a lot of misunderstandings”.
Media caption, Ros Atkins on…the missing Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai