OPINION: Peng Shuai needs the world’s support more than ever – Tennis Australia should be ashamed of themselves

In a world where the politics of sport is more important than ever before, Tennis Australia’s decision to ban T-shirts and banners asking the question ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ is deplorably shameful.

With a story as paramount as this to the sport of tennis, they’ve sadly associated themselves, whether they’ve meant to or not, to the wrong side. A side that silences athletes and promotes the unlawful treatment of their own and consistently and intentionally violates human rights.

The story of Peng Shuai’s censoring by the Chinese government was no surprise to anyone familiar with the state’s practices. China’s government have long made certain that anyone speaking out against them promptly ‘disappears’ from public view before re-emerging in sudden ‘proof-of-life’ videos or emails released by the regime claiming everything is ok. Shuai’s case is no different.

Her 1600 word post detailing sexual assault accusations against former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli onto Chinese social media site Weibo in November caused great concern for her own safety when she vanished from the public eye for numerous weeks. That was until state media outlet CGTN broadcasted an email out of the country claiming it was written by Shuai.

With the world gathering behind her, including the United Nations and the Women’s Tennis Association suspending all tournaments in China until they can validate Shuai’s safety, it comes as a shock to many that Tennis Australia would take such a stance. Asking supporters to remove T-shirts with ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ written on them brings many questions but one should be the main topic of discussion. Why? Why throw out fans supporting a silenced athlete?

Tennis Australia released a statement today explaining the activists were breaching their political statement policy.

“Under our ticket conditions of entry we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” a Tennis Australia spokesperson told Guardian Australia.

“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 wellbeing.”

However, this issue is neither a political nor commercial issue. Former women’s number one and all-time great Martina Navratilova put it best when she spoke on the Tennis Channel on Sunday.

One of the activists removed from the stands was named as Drew Pavlou – Pavlou has set up a fundraising page, which has already raised $15000 to make more T-shirts which he plans to give out for free at the women’s final on Saturday, 29 January.

The WTA have many people’s full respect taking the firm stance they have. It’s not easy going against a regime like China’s under Xi Jinping that has the reputation they’ve brought upon themselves through the genocide of Uighur Muslims, the removal of presidential term limits (effectively rendering the country under his dictatorship) and the ironic ‘anti-corruption campaigns’ against high-profile citizens speaking out against the CCP. In fact, it’s extremely commendable and brave.

However, what Tennis Australia has done is cowardly. Bending the knee to a higher power is much easier than doing the right thing and speaking the truth.

With the Winter Olympics set to be held in Beijing in just two weeks time, it’s entirely possible that this story won’t go away – at least in Western media.

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