The Peng Shuai conundrum continues to complicate world sport - and Beijing 2022 is just around the corner

Australian Open’s initial decision and rectification confirms how difficult it is to handle extra-sporting issues today, but also that 2022 is the worst year for the tournament in terms of public image.

Martina Navratilova (left) and Peng Shuai (right)
Martina Navratilova (left) and Peng Shuai (right)

The enigma surrounding Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai continues to generate disruptions in world sport. First came the pressure on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which indirectly led to the diplomatic boycott by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

And now it is the turn of the Australian Open tennis tournament, for which China is also a problem. 

Security officials at Melbourne Park removed banners and ejected two fans for wearing t-shirts bearing the name of Peng Shuai. The banner and shirts both had the statement “Where is Peng Shuai?” 

Days later, the tournament reversed the decision. 

“If someone wants to wear a T-shirt and make a statement about Peng Shuai that’s fine,” Craig Tiley, chief executive of Tennis Australia, the local federation, said to “The Sydney Morning Herald”. 

This, providing they attended without the “intent to disrupt” and were “peaceful,” Tiley added.

Two figures in the world tennis community took to Twitter to voice their concerns:

Martina Navratilova did not mince her words when she tweeted out, “That’s Just pathetic. The @wta stands pretty much alone on this!!! #WhereisPengShuai

Nicolas Mahut the former French world number one in doubles had a similar reaction saying, “What’s going on!? What lack of courage! What if you did not have Chinese sponsors?”

Two Chinese companies, Suzhou Laojiao, a premium liquor company, and mattress firm DeRucci are listed as corporate sponsors of the Australian Open.

Australia’s initial decision and rectification confirms how difficult it is to handle extra-sporting issues today, but also that 2022 is the worst year for the tournament in terms of public image.

Before the problem with Peng Shuai arose, the Oceania Grand Slam had to deal with Novak Djokovic’s refusal to be vaccinated and a complex legal process involving the Victorian state government and the Australian federal government. The Serb, the world number one, ended up banned and was unable to defend his 2021 title or seek his 21st Grand Slam trophy.

Peng Shuai, 38 years old and successful mainly in doubles, disappeared from the public scene after accusing in November a senior Communist Party official of having sexually abused her. 

Despite the athlete later partially denying her initial statements on social media, and despite IOC President Thomas Bach speaking to her on two occasions, things remain unclear.

Bach and Peng are scheduled to meet in Beijing for dinner, the IOC revealed weeks ago. The IOC head is already in Beijing, where the Winter Olympics open on February 4.

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