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Navratilova slams 'pathetic' Aussie Open for stopping fans' Peng Shuai protest

Hector Vivas / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Tennis great Martina Navratilova and French player Nicolas Mahut have joined the criticism of Australian Open organizers following a crackdown on activists wearing T-shirts and unfurling banners at the tournament to support Chinese player Peng Shuai.

Mahut said the order for spectators to remove the banners and T-shirts came as Melbourne Park carries signage for 1573, a Chinese distillery.

“What’s going on!?” What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors #1573. beyond disappointed” Mahut posted on social media.

The Chinese government has been accused of “disappearing” tennis player Peng Shuai after she made a sexual assault allegation late last year against a close ally of President Xi Jinping.

The WTA, which runs the women's tennis tour, has responded by saying it won't play any tournaments in China this year.

Navratilova, a three-time Australian Open singles champion, added her voice to those condemning the censorship when she tweeted: “That’s just pathetic. The @wta stands pretty much alone on this!!!”

Mahut, who was seeded seventh in the Australian Open men’s doubles competition with compatriot Fabrice Martin, and Navratilova were outraged by footage screened on Sunday of security and police requesting a fan remove a shirt which featured an image of Peng on the front and “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.

Tennis Australia responded initially by stating that such attire breached its rule on “political messaging."

In a further response Monday to the social media backlash, Tennis Australia said it understood “people have strongly held personal and political views on a range of issues.”

“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to do everything we can to ensure her well-being," the statement said. "Our work is ongoing and through the appropriate channels.

“To ensure that the Australian Open remains a welcoming, safe and inclusive event for everyone, we have a longstanding policy of not allowing banners, signs or clothing that are commercial or political."

After advancing to the quarterfinals, veteran French player Alize Cornet said “I think that everybody should, like, be able to manifest their support to Peng Shuai.” Asked about the issue at a daily briefing in Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China was “always opposed to the politicization of sports.”

“Such actions are unpopular and will never succeed,” Zhao said.

Navratilova slams 'pathetic' Aussie Open for stopping fans' Peng Shuai protest
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