Tennis Australia has reversed its policy of expelling spectators from the Australian Open for wearing T-shirts in support of missing Chinese player Peng Shuai.
The former doubles world number one has been absent from the tournament and concerns for her well-being have been raised after she alleged in November that she had been sexually assaulted by Zhang Gaoli, the former deputy prime minister. Chinese.
After being criticized by players, commentators and politicians, Tennis Australia said it would take a “common sense approach to policy enforcement”, a spokeswoman said, as long as those who support Peng cause no disruption during matches.
Two people wearing T-shirts that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” were kicked out by security and police from the tournament, held in Melbourne, over the weekend.
Tennis Australia defended the expulsion, saying the shirts breached its policy on political and commercial statements. This argument has been widely criticized, with Martina Navratilova, the former champion and commentator, calling it this week “cowardly”.
Human rights activists have raised funds to print thousands of t-shirts with the slogan to distribute ahead of the women’s final this weekend.
In November, the Women’s Tennis Association said it was unable to locate Peng weeks after it posted sexual assault allegations against Zhang on its Weibo account.
In her first comments after the social media post, Peng told Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao in December that she had not been assaulted. The WTA continued to voice their support for the player due to concerns over her safety.
It is the second global incident to eclipse the Grand Slam tournament after unvaccinated player Novak Djokovic, ranked world number one, was expelled from the country by the Australian government on public interest grounds.