MELBOURNE | “Pathetic”, “lack of courage”… The organizers of the Australian Open sparked a controversy by asking supporters on Sunday to remove their jerseys in support of Chinese player Peng Shuai, whom activists have since promised to remove. mass print.
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“Where is Peng Shuai?” Neither on the courts of the Australian Open, nor even in the stands, on signs or t-shirts bearing the hashtag which went viral several months ago.
On Sunday, fans were forced to remove them on Sunday, claiming that the Australian Open “does not allow political clothing, banners or signs”, according to a spokesperson for the Australian Tennis Federation.
She was quick to say that “Peng Shuai’s safety” was her “primary concern” and that she continued “to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to obtain further clarification on her situation and (would) do everything (his) possible to ensure his well-being”.
But the decision of “Tennis Australia” has provoked the indignation of several personalities in the field, who have, in fact, put more light on these jerseys.
“Not a political message”
The American of Czech origin Martina Navratilova, tennis legend with her 18 Grand Slam titles (in singles), described this decision as “pathetic”, on Twitter, believing that “the WTA (was) left to itself !!!»
“I find it cowardly, it is not a political message, it is a message in favor of human rights, she developed on the American television channel Tennis Channel. The WTA has been so strong on this subject… To capitulate like this, on the part of the Australians, I find it really weak.
The body that manages the women’s tennis circuit had canceled all of its tournaments in China at the beginning of the month, calling for a transparent investigation into the accusations of alleged rape of the player.
Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, eliminated in the first round of the doubles tournament in Melbourne, also protested on Twitter: “What a lack of courage! What if you didn’t have Chinese sponsors?”
The weight of sponsors?
The former world No.1 in doubles was referring to Luzhou Laojiao, a Chinese brand of alcohol, which has been one of the most important financiers of the Australian Open for several years. Court N.2, one of the five largest in Melbourne, has also been renamed “1573 arena”, in reference to the year in which the Chinese company was created.
In response to the organizers’ ban, Australian human rights activist Drew Pavlou managed to raise more than 14,000 Australian dollars (more than 9,000 euros) on the GoFundMe platform in order to print the same tee- shirts and distribute them to spectators ahead of the final of the women’s tournament.
“We print 1,000 sweaters and we’ll see how many spectators they can stop,” pro-Hong Kong activist Max Mok told ABC.
Asked at a daily press conference on Monday, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said his country “has always been against the politicization of sport, which is unpopular and does not work”.
The affair broke out at the beginning of November, when Peng Shuai had mentioned in a message on the Chinese social network Weibo – since deleted – a “forced” sexual relationship with the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli, married and from forty years his senior.
The former world No.1 in doubles then did not appear in public for several weeks, then returned to her remarks in an interview with the Singaporean newspaper Lianhe Zaobao.
But the WTA continued to express “concern” and “serious doubts” about the player’s freedom of movement.
Since Sunday, it is that of the spectators wearing these t-shirts in question in Melbourne.