The Australian Open has done a U-turn on its decision to ban supporters from donning T-shirts in support of Chinese star Peng Shuai.
Melbourne Park supporters were last week requested to remove shirts containing references to Shuai. The Chinese player’s safety and well-being has been in question ever since she accused a top Chinese government official of sexual assault.
Officials also confiscated a banner at the time of the request.
The decision to allow the T-shirts was made following an international backlash in response to the organisers’ claims that the message propagated constituted a political one. While the decision regarding the T-shirts has been reversed, banners remain off-limits.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova earlier this week accused Tennis Australia of bending the knee to China. She was joined by Australian defense minister Peter Dutton shortly after, who said the player’s safety is a human rights issue instead of a political one.
Also weighing in on the issue had been foreign minister Marise Payne. According to Payne, freedom of speech should always be defended. She said she had great respect for Shuai for speaking out about her experience.
Tennis Australia chief Crag Tiley responded to the backlash on Tuesday by saying the wearing of the T-shirts would be allowed, but only if no disruptions were created.
Shuai has appeared only on rare occasions in public and on social media since her controversial post went live on Weibo in November. She has since retracted her statement, which has led many to believe that she had been coerced to do so.
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