Australian Open officials force fans to remove shirts referring to China's Peng Shuai
MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Australian Open organisers said the safety of Ms Peng Shuai remains their "primary concern" even as security officials at the Grand Slam forced fans to remove shirts referring to China's former doubles number one.
A video posted on social media on Saturday showed security staff at Melbourne Park confiscating shirts and a banner bearing the slogan: "Where Is Peng Shuai?"
Ms Peng's well-being became a matter of concern for the global tennis community in November when she appeared to allege that a former Chinese Vice-Premier had sexually assaulted her in the past. After that post, she was absent from public view for nearly three weeks.
In December, she denied ever having accused anyone of sexually assaulting her, adding that an e-mail she had sent a month earlier to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) president Steve Simon seeking to assure him of her well-being was done "entirely of my own free will".
In a brief interview with Lianhe Zaobao, Ms Peng said she had been living in her home in Beijing all this time, and that her movements had not been restricted in any way.
The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) suspended tournaments in China over concerns for Ms Peng's safety, which the Tour says have not been alleviated by her recent public appearances.
Australian Open organisers Tennis Australia said in response to the video that "under our ticket conditions of entry we don't allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political".
It said: "Peng Shuai's safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and global tennis community to seek more clarity on her situation and will do everything we can to ensure her wellbeing."
Former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who is part of the WTA Players Council, said earlier this week that they were yet to hear directly from Ms Peng.
"There hasn't been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable," Ms Azarenka said.
"Hopefully we will get to hear from her personally at some point. I think that's the goal, the main goal right now."
World number one Ash Barty said the situation had brought the tennis community together.
"Hopefully it's not too long until we see her back out here," the Australian said at Melbourne Park.