MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tennis Australia has reversed the decision to ban Australian Open spectators from protesting in support of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, as long as it doesn't disrupt the event.
In November, Peng took to social media platform Weibo and accused Chinese Communist Party member Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into sex. The former world No. 14 has since disappeared from social media, with her whereabouts and well-being unclear.
Tennis Australia's announcement comes 48 hours after a fan at Melbourne Park was asked to remove a T-shirt and take down a banner displaying the message "Where is Peng Shuai?" A video of the interaction was shared on the social media platform Reddit and has been viewed over 100,000 times on TikTok.
Tennis Australia initially defended the decision, confirming to ESPN the fans in question did not meet the Australian Open's ticketing conditions. But ahead of the quarterfinals, tournament director Craig Tiley told AFP its stance had changed.
"Yes, as long as they are not coming as a mob to be disruptive but are peaceful," Tiley said when asked if fans can continue their protests. "It's all been a bit lost in translation from some people who are not here and don't really know the full view.
"The situation in the last couple of days is that some people came with a banner on two large poles, and we can't allow that. If you are coming to watch the tennis that's fine, but we can't allow anyone to cause a disruption at the end of the day."
In the past 72 hours, a GoFundMe page titled "Australian Open -- Hand Out Peng Shuai Shirts" was created with the aim to print and distribute shirts ahead of the women's final. The initiative has attracted over 300 donations, totaling AU$15,000 (about $10,709), including one single anonymous donation of AU$2,500 (about $1,784).
"My idea is quite simple. How about we present major difficulties for Tennis Australia by printing off one thousand of these shirts and giving them out for free to spectators entering the Women's Grand Final," the initiative's creator, Drew Pavlou, posted on the page.
"Every cent raised here will go towards the printing of these shirts. We will account for every single dollar spent with receipts."
The women's Australian Open final will take place at Rod Laver Arena on Jan. 29.