TC LIVE: Navratilova challenges thought process of Tennis Australia

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Tennis Australia’s decision to force spectators to remove “Where Is Peng Shuai?” t-shirts over the weekend faced backlash across the board when the organization claimed the messaging violated the conditions of ticket entry.

On Sunday evening from Los Angeles, International Tennis Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova denounced the move during Tennis Channel Live, saying it went completely against the role sport plays in pushing social issues forward.

“I find it really, really cowardly. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement,” Navratilova said.

Come Tuesday afternoon, organizers flipped their stance. While banners showcasing the movement remain prohibited, t-shirts are now permitted on the grounds of Melbourne Park.

"Yes, as long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful," Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley told AAP. "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."

Everyone involved at the season’s first major can now expect to see the question, “Where Is Peng Shuai?”, out in full force. A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $17,000 Australian dollars (as of late Tuesday afternoon local time) to have 1,000 shirts screen-printed and handed out to fans attending Saturday’s women’s final.

Drew Pavlou, an activist listed as the GoFundMe page’s organizer, celebrated the overturned policy shortly after news broke.

“Amazing how two t-shirts and a GoFundMe link can take down the entire Tennis Australia marketing department,” wrote Pavlou, who is also running to represent Queensland in the Australian Senate.

It’s been nearly 12 weeks since Peng Shuai accused former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a Weibo post that was immediately censored and removed. Peng has since made a handful of public appearances, though many believe her participation in those events were dictated by government authorities.

WTA CEO Steve Simon has taken the strongest public stance amongst leadership within the tennis community, suspending all business operations in China after repeatedly pushing for legitimate evidence of Peng’s wellbeing and safety.

The same approach can’t be said of the ATP's CEO Andrea Gaudenzi. The men’s tour stated in early December, “We know that sport can have a positive influence on society and generally believe that having a global presence gives us the best chance of creating opportunity and making an impact.”

Peng last appeared on a match court in February 2020 at the WTA tournament in Doha. A three-time Olympian, 2014 US Open semifinalist and former No. 1 in doubles, Peng has reached the fourth round in singles and the 2017 doubles final at the Australian Open.