Tennis great Martina Navratilova has slammed the Australian Open organisers for forcing a spectator to remove a shirt featuring a message of support for Chinese player Peng Shuai. (More Tennis News)
Video emerged on Sunday morning of a woman being intercepted at Melbourne Park wearing the shirt with an image of Peng on the front and the message “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.
In a tweet, the former world number one and 18-time Grand Slam singles winner called the decision "pathetic." "That’s just pathetic. The @wta stands pretty much alone on this!!! #WhereisPengShuai," wrote the 65-year-old.
French tennis player Nicolas Mahut also reacted. And wrote, "What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors #1573 #beyonddisappointed".
Chinese distillery Luzhou Laojiao is one of the Australian Open's leading sponsors.
Tennis Australia however has defended the action, saying "Under our ticket conditions of entry we don't allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political."
“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,” the statement added.
According to reports, a GoFundMe page seeking support to distribute Peng Shuai shirts at the Australian Open had raised thousands of dollars within 24 hours on the weekend.
Peng, 36, disappeared for weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual misconduct in November last year.
The former women's doubles world number has since re-appeared, but there are still concerns as to whether she is really free.
The WTA (Women's Tennis Association) has taken a strong stand on the issue saying it will not play any tournaments in China this year.
Players' Council member and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka said the organization is still yet to hear from Peng and her welfare.