‘Cowardly’ – Martina Navratilova slams Australian Open for banning ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ t-shirts

Martina Navratilova continues to fight Peng Shuai’s corner (Picture: Getty)

Martina Navratilova has hit out at the Australian Open for banning fans from wearing shirts bearing messages of support for Chinese doubles player Peng Shuai.

In November last year, the world No.1 doubles star took to social media platform Weibo and accused a former senior Chinese official of pressuring her into sex and in the immediate weeks after the 36-year-old disappeared from social media, sparking concerns for her safety.

Despite public appearances from Peng since, tennis players and fans are still calling for action and after a video emerged of security officials and police at the Australian Open instructing fans on Saturday to remove shirts with the slogan, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ on them, Tennis Australia defended its stance.

‘Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,’ a spokesperson said.

‘Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her well-being.’

But 18-time Grand Slam singles champion Navratilova has branded Tennis Australia’s stance as ‘weak’ and ‘cowardly.’

‘I find it really, really cowardly,’ she said on the Tennis Channel.

‘I think they are wrong on this. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.

‘(Tennis Australia is) just really capitulating on this issue… letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own Slam. I just find it really weak.’

In response to the concern over Peng’s welfare in the aftermath of her allegations, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended tournaments in China.

However, last month Peng came out and said she’d never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, insisting her social media post had been misunderstood.

However, the issue isn’t going away with journalists still able to ask players competing at the Australia Open about Peng’s situation.

‘I imagine myself in her shoes, and in that way, it’s a little bit scary,’ Naomi Osaka said last week.

‘You kind of want to lend your voice and you want people to, you know, ask the questions.’

Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka added: ‘There hasn’t been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable.’

MORE : Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denies making sexual assault claim in concerning first interview

MORE : Peng Shuai concerns prompt WTA to suspend tennis tournaments in China

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