The Australian Open was overshadowed by protests for the second time this year after Tennis Australia expelled two spectators who wore T-shirts in support of Chinese player Peng Shuai.
Over the weekend, video footage of security officials and police driving away two protesters circulated online, with banners and T-shirts emblazoned with the Chinese player’s face and the words “Where is Peng Shuai?” Last year, Peng came under pressure after accusing a senior Chinese government official of sexual assault.
Tennis Australia said spectators were not allowed to make political or commercial remarks during matches.
This is the second time this month that the tennis body has been forced to defend its actions after it granted unvaccinated Serbian player Novak Djokovic a medical exemption to play.The Australian government has criticised the decision and cancelled his visa.
Former women’s tennis champion and commentator Martina Navratilova said on Twitter, citing the Women’s Tennis Association’s support for Peng, that the decision to expel the protesters was “sad”.
In November, the WTA said it could not find Peng Shuai weeks after her article was published sexual assault allegations Former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli on her Weibo.In December, Peng told Shanghai Lianhe Zaobao In her first comment after the social media post, she was not attacked by the newspaper.
The scandal comes ahead of China’s inaugural Winter Olympics, which start next month, and has faced a diplomatic boycott from the United States over Beijing’s human rights record. Peng’s incident led the WTA to suspend competition in the lucrative mainland China market, citing a lack of guarantees of “freedom, safety and freedom from censorship” for players.
Drew Pavlou, an activist who is running for the Australian Senate this year, tweeted a video of protesters being expelled from the Australian Open and questioned whether T-shirts supporting Peng violated Tennis Australia Provisions.
“What is the political significance of simply speaking up for Peng Shuai’s rights?” he asked, calling the tennis establishment’s actions a “horrific attack on freedom of speech.”
Pavlou launched an online fundraiser to raise AUD 10,000 to print 1,000 T-shirts to support Chinese tennis players to distribute to spectators at the Australian Open Women’s Final.
Chinese liquor company Luzhou Laojiao, one of the biggest sponsors of the Australian Open, signed a five-year contract in 2018.
Tennis Australia has been forced to defend the medical immunity it granted to world No. 1 men’s Djokovic, who was granted a medical waiver when he entered Australia for the Australian Open.
The unvaccinated player, who won the tournament nine times, was expelled from the federal government after a legal battle at the start of the game.