MELBOURNE, Australia -- Fans at the Australian Open were asked by security to remove T-shirts featuring the slogan "Where is Peng Shuai?" which references the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Chinese tennis player's well-being and whereabouts.
In November, Peng, the former world No. 14 singles player and part of a No. 1 doubles tandem, took to social media platform Weibo and accused Chinese Communist Party member Zhang Gaoli of pressuring her into sex. In the weeks following the post, Peng disappeared from social media, sparking concerns over her safety and ability to communicate freely with the rest of the world.
On Saturday, a TikTok user uploaded a video in which fans at the Australian Open were approached by security and asked to remove the shirts with the slogan on them. A banner was also seen in the hands of a member of security.
In the video, police later arrived at the scene and confirmed the security crew's position. An officer is heard saying: "The Australian Open does have a rule that you can't have political slogans ... it's a rule that it's a condition of entry.
"Tennis Australia does set the rules, and regardless of what you're saying -- and I'm not saying you can't have those views -- but I am saying that Tennis Australia sets the rules here.
"[Security is] allowed to confiscate the shirts and the banner."
The video received widespread attention on the posting platform Reddit and was viewed 52,000 times on TikTok.
In a statement provided to ESPN from Tennis Australia, the organization said its "primary concern" is the safety of Peng Shuai, but added that fans are not allowed to bring onto the grounds or display political statements at the tournament.
"Under our ticket conditions of entry we don't allow clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political," a spokesperson 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 well-being."
Tennis great Martina Navratilova slammed the decision, on the U.S.-based Tennis Channel, and said it is "cowardly."
"I find it really, really cowardly. I think they are wrong on this. This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement.
"[Tennis Australia is] just really capitulating on this issue ... letting the Chinese really dictate what they do at their own Slam. I just find it really weak."
Throughout the Australian Open, media has been allowed to ask players about the ongoing situation with Peng in news conferences, and prominent players have continued to express their concern for the well-being of the former player.
Last Wednesday, four-time major winner Naomi Osaka said it was important to continue to ask questions and keep Peng's safety and whereabouts front of mind, as she would "want people to care for me too."
"I imagine myself in her shoes, and in that way, it's a little bit scary," Osaka said last week. "You kind of want to lend your voice and you want people to, you know, ask the questions."
Two-time Australian Open winner and WTA Player Council member Victoria Azarenka said the situation remained "unfortunate."
"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," Azarenka said.