The Australian Open has been lambasted by the Peng Shuai t-shirt controversy after it emerged Tennis Australia has struck a lucrative $100million sponsorship deal with a Chinese liquor company.
Footage emerged over the weekend of tournament security guards ordering a spectator to remove a shirt that read “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.
Shuai, a Chinese tennis player, disappeared for three weeks, then recanted after accusing one of the communist country’s top politicians of rape.
TA defended the shirt ban on Sunday, saying it “does not allow commercial or political clothing, banners or signs” at the Grand Slam.
However, Sydney radio host Ben Fordham accused organizers of trying to protect their bank balance, pointing to the open’s five-year sponsorship deal with Chinese liquor brand Luzhou Laojiao.
An Australian Open fan has been forced to remove a shirt expressing concern for the well-being of tennis star Peng Shuai who disappeared after accusing a senior Chinese politician of rape
The deal is one of the biggest in tournament history, with the opening of a Melbourne Park 1573 Arena ground being named after one of Luzhou’s star products.
“The Australian Open tennis has the biggest Chinese sponsorship deal in history,” Fordham said on his 2GB radio show on Monday.
“They don’t want to jeopardize the deal or the money.”
Australian human rights activist Drew Pavlou claimed TA put his relationship with his sponsor ahead of Peng’s safety.
“I doubt they would have taken down these kinds of posts if they weren’t getting $25m a year from Luzhou,” he told Daily Mail Australia.
“That’s not to say the millions they get from deals with Chinese TV companies to broadcast the tournament.”
The video also drew criticism overseas, with Human Rights Watch in New York also linking it to the sponsorship deal.
“Tennis Australia is preventing Australian Open spectators from wearing “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts. Guojiao 1573 range,” HRW director Kenneth Roth wrote on Twitter.
The five-year deal, worth $100 million, was signed in 2018.
The southern Chinese company has taken over advertising space from Victorian wine giant Jacob’s Creek – the tournament’s former partner.
Luzhou Laojiao is known for its liquors made from Baijiu – a Chinese grain-based spirit nicknamed “firewater” for its strong, potent smell.
Daily Mail Australia posed a list of questions to Tennis Australia.
Australian Alex de Minaur is pictured playing a third round match on Saturday night at the 1573 Arena at the Australian Open; signage is shown along the pitch. The arena is named after one of Luzhou’s iconic products
The Australian Open renamed a court inside Melbourne Park’s 1573 Arena after one of Luzhou’s flagships (pictured)
The criticism came after footage of security guards and police asking a female spectator to take off her shirt in Melbourne Park went viral.
The activist’s shirt had a photo of Peng’s face and “wanted” printed on the front.
The man filming the confrontation can be heard asking the guard “what do you suggest she is wearing?” after the woman was ordered to undress.
Instead of answering the question, the guard asks the man to take off a similar shirt as well.
A policeman then approaches and informs the couple that guests are not allowed to take “political slogans” into the tennis tournament.
“It’s not a political message,” replies the activist.
“That doesn’t mean voting for the Liberal or Labor party. She is a tennis player who is being persecuted and the Women’s Tennis Association has come to her defense. We are simply [reiterating] what the WTA says.
Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai (pictured) disappeared from public view in November after bringing sexual assault charges against a senior politician
The cop said he understood what the pair were saying, but ‘Tennis Australia makes the rules’.
“I’m not saying you’re not allowed to have these views, but TA is allowed to confiscate your shirts and the banner,” the officers said, before the video cut.
Tennis Australia doubled down on its decision to ban shirts supporting Peng in a statement on Sunday.
“In our entry requirements, we do not allow commercial or political clothing, banners or signs,” he said.
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our main concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to clarify his situation and will do everything we can to ensure his well-being.
Peng disappeared from the public eye for three weeks after posting a message on Chinese social media making the allegations on November 2.
A spokesperson for Victoria Police said the force was “aware of a small number of protesters outside the Australian Open on Friday January 21”.
“As part of the Open entry requirements, nothing politically motivated may be displayed,” the spokesperson said.
“Police have engaged with customers to support security, referring to entry requirements as they leave the venue.”
A GoFundMe page was launched on Saturday to help raise money for activists to distribute Peng Shuai shirts at the Australian Open, raising more than $6,640 in 24 hours.
Shuai disappeared from public view for three weeks last year after posting a message on Chinese social media platform Weibo on November 2 accusing former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of raping her in 2017.
“Why did you come looking for me again, take me to your house and force me to have sex?” I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any proof of it. You denied everything afterwards,” Shuai’s post read.
In less than half an hour, the former doubles world No.
After widespread fears Shuai had been silenced, with the hashtag #WhereisPengShuai online she resurfaced in December, sharing a video of herself recanting her sexual assault allegations.
Despite his reappearance, the tennis community remained alarmed at his wellbeing, with Australian stars expressing concern.
“Hopefully we’ll see her back here soon,” Australia’s world No. 1 Ash Barty said after her win on Wednesday.
Australian Ash Bary (pictured) says she has ‘no idea’ if Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai is safe, admitting players have been told very little about his terrifying situation
Tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios also weighed in on the situation, saying the sporting world is “forced” to speak on behalf of the Chinese star, and that “something is clearly not right there”.
“Obviously if it’s still something that’s going on, it needs to be found out and sort of, I guess, we need more awareness about it.” We can’t forget that,’ Kyrgios said.
“We have to use our platforms as athletes. I think we have to, we have to talk and, you know, get to the root of what’s happening and why it’s happening.
Women’s Tennis Association Tour president Steve Simon in December took the unprecedented step of suspending all competitions in China, saying the WTA was founded on equality for women and that Peng’s treatment was “unacceptable”. .