Martina Navratilova has criticised Australian Open officials after they removed “Where is Peng Shuai?” T-shirts and banners at the tournament.
The retired 18-time Grand Slam winner called the act “pathetic” amid continued concern for the welfare of Chinese tennis player Peng.
“That’s just pathetic,” Navratilova wrote on social media. “The WTA [Women’s Tennis Association] stands pretty much alone on this.”
Tennis Australia, which runs the Australian Open, said its entry policy didn’t allow “clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political”.
Peng has barely been seen since November after publicly accusing a senior Chinese official of sexually assaulting her.
The WTA has been vocal in raising concerns about the 36-year-old, cancelling several tournaments in China in response.
But the men’s ATP Tour has been quieter and the International Olympic Committee accused of appeasing China, which hosts the Beijing 2022 Winter Games next month.
Navratilova added on the Tennis Channel: “Sport has always been on the forefront of social issues, pushing them forward, and we are going backwards I feel. I find it really, really cowardly.
“This is not a political statement, this is a human rights statement. And chances are Peng Shuai may be playing here but she couldn’t get out of the country. Anyway, I think they’re wrong on this.
“The WTA has been so strong on this issue. And the players, really taking a chance on their pocket book.
“The ATP was pretty weak on this. The IOC – well, we know where they are. And just really capitulating on this issue from the Aussies, letting China dictate what they do at their own slam.”