Fans are seen Tuesday wearing T-shirts asking about Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai before a match at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Dave Hunt/EPA-EFE
Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The Australian Open is going back on a decision to ban T-shirts asking about the whereabouts of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, who has been the subject of controversy and worldwide concern for almost three months.
Concern for Peng's well-being began in early November after she made a post to social media that accused former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault -- and then wasn't seen or heard from for three weeks.
Peng later appeared on a couple of occasions and walked back her accusations against Zhang. She also said that she's safe, but concerns have persisted due to her unknown whereabouts and Beijing's questionable human rights record.
Last week, the Australian Open was criticized for ordering a fan to remove his shirt that asked, "Where is Peng Shuai?" Tennis Australia, which operates the Grand Slam tournament, said the shirt violated a policy against political messages.
On Tuesday, the tournament reversed the policy after receiving substantial international backlash.
Peng is a former world No. 1 women's doubles player and won two Grand Slams, Wimbledon and the French Open
, in 2013 and 2014. File Photo by David Silpa/UPI
"If someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai, that's fine," said Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
"But what's not fine is if that someone brings in a big banner and it's got big poles attached to it and it's used as something [which is dangerous], it really takes away from the comfort and safety of the fans. We'll stick to those terms and conditions."
There have been repeated calls for an investigation into Peng's accusation against Zhang and her treatment and advocates have continued to voice concern for her safety.
Last month, Peng denied that she accused Zhang of misconduct, which further heightened concerns for her well-being.
The Women's Tennis Association has taken a firm stance on the issue, announcing last month that it won't hold any tournaments in China until the situation is resolved. The International Tennis Federation declined to follow suit, saying that it preferred not to "punish" tennis fans in China.
Peng, 36, is not competing at the Australian Open this year and hasn't appeared in the tournament since 2020. She is a former world No. 1 women's doubles player and won two other Grand Slams, Wimbledon and the French Open in 2013 and 2014.
Peng Shuai reacts during her women's singles first-round match against Nao Hibino of Japan at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne in 2020. Photo by Francis Malasig/EPA-EFE