tennis legend Martina Navratilova publicly criticized the authorities of the Australian Open for having prohibited a group of fans from wearing t-shirts with legends that asked for the appearance of the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have been unknown since November of last year. Although the Asian athlete has made some appearances in the press in her country in recent weeks, there are serious doubts as to whether these have been under the coercion of the government of her country.
This case has strongly mobilized the world of tennis and surprised how, last Saturday, security agents of the Australian Grand Slam demanded that a group of fans take off the T-shirts they wore with the legend “Where is Peng Shuai?”. The video of the sequence went viral on social networks and generated a wave of repudiation, something that forced the organization of the contest to issue an official statement to explain what happened. “We do not allow clothing or posters with commercial or political messages”, they argued.
Navratilova, 65, harshly crossed the Australian Open authorities by noting that “Sports have always been at the forefront of social demands and I feel like we’re going backwards.” After recalling the incident of the security agents with the fans who asked for the appearance of Peng Shuai, he stressed that they were watching a practice and that “they were not even in the main stadium.”
“I feel like they act cowardly”, expressed the former Czech tennis player, who has lived in the United States for decades. “I think they are wrong, this is not a political statement, is a declaration of human rights”, He maintained in a television program.
Who supported his words was his colleague Lindsay Davenport, who highlighted the action that the WTA has had in relation to the case of the Chinese tennis player, although he regretted that the issue seems to be losing weight in the public debate.
In that sense, Navrtailova redoubled the bet against Tennis Australia, which is the organizing body of the first Grand Slam of the year. “They are giving up on this issue and they are letting the Chinese dictate what to do at their own Grand Slam. It seems very weak on his part, “he said.
The worrying case of Peng Shuai broke out in November 2021, after the tennis player who used to be number one in the world in doubles disappeared from the public eye for a few days after saying on social media that the former deputy prime minister Zhang Gaoli – a man 40 years older than her and a member of the Communist Party – had forced her to have sex and that they then had an intermittent consensual relationship.
This fact motivated a great campaign on the part of the WTA and the world of tennis to try to find the whereabouts of the athlete. Although images of the young woman were later broadcast at various events in her country and she even had a series of video calls with the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, Doubts still persist regarding the true situation. From the WTA maintain their alert regarding the well-being of the young woman and have expressed on more than one occasion that these interventions are not enough to show that she can communicate “without censorship or coercion”.