Mon. May 23rd, 2022

The Australian Open tennis tournament was overshadowed by protests for the second time this year after Tennis Australia ousted two spectators for wearing T-shirts in support of Chinese player Peng Shuai.

Video footage of security officers and police expelling the two protesters, featuring a banner and T-shirts with the Chinese player’s face and the phrase, “Where’s Peng Shuai?”, Was circulated online over the weekend. Peng came under pressure last year after she accused a senior Chinese government official of sexual assault.

Tennis Australia has said spectators are not allowed to make political or commercial statements during the tournament.

This is the second time this month that the tennis body has been forced to defend its actions after giving a medical exemption to unvaccinated Serbian player Novak Djokovic to play at the tournament. The Australian Government criticized the decision and his visa canceled.

Martina Navratilova, the former women’s tennis champion and commentator, said the decision to oust the protesters was “pathetic”, on Twitter, referring to the Women’s Tennis Association’s support for Peng.

In November, the WTA said it was unable to track down Peng Shuai weeks after she published allegations of sexual assault against former Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Zhang Gaoli on her Weibo account. In December, Peng told Shanghai’s Lianhe Zaobao newspaper that she was not assaulted, in her first remarks after the social media post.

The scandal erupted ahead of China’s first Winter Olympics, which begin next month and are subject to a US diplomatic boycott over Beijing’s human rights record. The Peng affair has led the WTA to suspend its tournaments in mainland China’s lucrative market, citing a lack of assurance that the player is “free, safe and not subject to censorship”.

Drew Pavlou, an activist standing for election to the Australian Senate this year, posted the video of the protesters being thrown out of the Australian Open on Twitter and questioned whether the T-shirts in violation of Peng Tennis violated Australia’s rules.

“How is it political to simply speak up for Peng Shuai’s rights?” he asked, describing the actions of the tennis body as a “terrible attack on free speech”.

Pavlou has launched an online funding campaign to raise A $ 10,000 to print 1,000 T-shirts in support of the Chinese tennis player to hand out to spectators attending the women’s final at the Australian Open.

Luzhou Laojiao, the Chinese liquor company, is one of the Australian Open’s biggest sponsors, after concluding a five-year deal in 2018.

Tennis Australia was forced to defend its decision to award Djokovic, the world’s number one seeded male player, the medical exemption he used to enter the country to play in the Australian Open.

The unvaccinated player, who has won the tournament nine times, was deported by the federal government after a legal battle just as the tournament began.

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