Tennis Australia has now allowed fans to wear "Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts at the Australian Open amid criticism of the event's organizers' earlier stance on the issue.

Last Saturday, a video was posted on social media that showed security officials instructing fans to remove shirts with the slogan on them. At the time, the governing body said that the Melbourne Park tournament does not allow political statements.

French tennis player Nicolas Mahut was one of the athletes who reacted to the video. He suggested that the organizers were bowing to pressure from the corporate Chinese sponsors, reported BBC. Chinese premium liquor company Luzhou Laojiao is one of the leading partners mentioned on Australia Open's website. Mahut tweeted, "What's going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors?"

Tennis star Martina Navratilova also condemned it, and said that it's “pathetic." The retired tennis player, who won 18 grand slam singles titles, also accused Tennis Australia of “capitulating” to China," reported The Guardian. She later lauded the efforts of Tennis Australia's CEO Craig Tiley for "doing the right thing".

Tiley told Reuters Tuesday that unfortunately he thinks "there's a lot of miscommunication and lack of understanding on it, because it's not just a one line response." He explained that someone wearing a T-shirt "saying something is not going to have any impact on the safety. But when they start getting together as a group, as a mob, and start being disruptive, in any way or form, that's a different thing."

He added that if people are attending the event to do what everyone else is doing that is to enjoy the tennis, and "if they've got a T-shirt on that says, 'Where is Peng Shuai?', that's fine." Tiley said that the steps taken by security staff was based on suspicions over "the motive and intent of the person coming in." He mentioned that if people are coming on site to "specifically disrupt the comfort and the safety of our fans, then we don't welcome them."

The Chinese tennis player's situation became a matter of concern last November when she alleged that former Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli had sexually assaulted her. After the revelation on social media, she disappeared for almost three weeks. Last month Shuai said that she had never accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, and that her post had been misunderstood.

Referring to Shuai's shirts at Melbourne Park, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said Monday that "such behavior is unpopular and will not succeed."

On Monday, Shuai's supporters in Australia said that they were planning to give away 1,000 "Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts at Melbourne Park this week.

Peng Shuai
Peng Shuai of China in action during her Women's Singles first round match against Nao Hibino of Japan on day two of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 21, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo by Fred Lee/Getty Images

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