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Retired tennis star Martina Navratilova blasts a decision by Australian Open organisers to ban T-shirts supporting Chinese player Peng Shuai.

Retired tennis star Martina Navratilova blasts a decision by Australian Open organisers to ban T-shirts supporting Chinese player Peng Shuai.

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Peng Shuai
Retired tennis star Martina Navratilova blasts a decision by Australian Open organisers to ban T-shirts supporting Chinese player Peng Shuai.—

Security staff had on Friday asked a spectator at a match to remove a T-shirt saying “Where is Peng Shuai?”.

Ms Peng disappeared for weeks after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual misconduct in November.

She has since re-appeared, but many remain concerned about her wellbeing and freedom in China.

Tennis Australia, the organising body behind the Australian Open, said Peng Shuai’s safety remained their “primary concern”, but defended their decision to confiscate the T-shirt and banner in a statement.

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“Under our ticket conditions of entry, we don’t allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political,” it said.

In a tweet, former world female number one tennis player Navratilova called the decision “pathetic.”

French tennis player Nicolas Mahut also chimed in on the incident, suggesting that organisers were acquiescing to pressure from major corporate Chinese sponsors.

“What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors?” he tweeted.

Friday’s incident also sparked the creation of a Gofundme page that promised to print out more T-shirts after reaching its AUD$10,000 (£5,296; $7,179) goal.

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In November, Ms Peng posted a 1,600-word note on Chinese social media platform Weibo, accusing former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

She then vanished from the public eye, triggering a wave of global concern among the international tennis community, fans and human rights groups over her whereabouts.

She resurfaced weeks later, and in December in her first media interview following her reappearance, she denied making any accusations of sexual assault and claimed her social media post had faced “a lot of misunderstandings”.

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