Fans showed up at the Australian Open on Friday with apparel and signs that questioned the whereabouts of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. A group of people in the stands had a banner that read, "Where is Peng Shuai?" and wore shirts that had a photo of Peng on the front that read "Wanted."
Event officials confiscated the items, but not before photos and videos of the shirts and banner were shared online. However, as of Tuesday, tournament organizers have changed the ruled and said the shirts will be allowed, according to Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley.
BREAKING - Australian Open security call in police on human rights activists @pakchoi_boi @maxmokchito for wearing “Free Peng Shuai” shirts, try force @pakchoi_boi to take off shirt in public area right next to @naomiosaka training session - the most vocal athlete on Peng Shuai pic.twitter.com/qAPPmEJEZt— Drew Pavlou For Senate (@DrewPavlou) January 21, 2022
Tiley told the Associated Press that fans are now permitted to wear the shirts, pending they do not gather in large groups. Tiley said safety for others at the tournament is behind the reasoning for preventing large groups of people with the apparel.
"If they want to do that, that's fine [but] if anyone's coming on site with the express intent of disrupting the comfort and safety of our fans, they're not welcome," he said.
Security initially said that they had to confiscate the apparel because, "You're not supposed to bring any political statements" into the venue. The person taking the video then asked if "Free Peng Shuai" was political according to Tennis Australia, to which the security guard responded by shaking his head and saying "yes."
After the videos were posted, many were upset at the Australian Open for their policy. Tennis legend Martina Navratilova said forcing the fans to remove the shirts was "just pathetic."
Peng disappeared after a post on her social media page on Nov. 2 claimed that former Chinese Communist Party leader Zhang Gaoli sexually assaulted her. The posts were quickly deleted by the Chinese government and she has since come back into the public and said she never made such claims.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound, after a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach, said the group decided unanimously that Peng was "fine," despite concern from others at her lack of public appearances.
Still, many have called for "verifiable" proof that she is OK to ensure her safety.