Tennis Australia Sides With Beijing

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Over the weekend, reports emerged that the security service of the Australian Tennis Open, assisted by police, had ordered a spectator to remove her T-shirt that featured an image of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai on the front and the message “Where is Peng Shuai?” on the back.

The 36-year-old player won the Doubles Wimbledon tennis tournament and the Doubles French Open, in respectively 2013 and 2014. Peng also played in the Semi-Final Singles of the U.S. Open in 2014.

In November 2021, Peng Shuai accused a former vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhang Gaoli, of sexually assaulting her in 2017. The social media post on Weibo was removed within half an hour, and she disappeared; an ominous but common occurrence in China.

She then resurfaced in a well-orchestrated online chat with Thomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee, and she was seen at a dinner with other people.

However, these events were almost certainly staged and controlled by her communist handlers. Her whereabouts are unknown, and her future appears uncertain.

Epoch Times Photo
The sun sets as spectators wait for the men’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 18, 2022. (Martin Keep/AFP via Getty Images)

The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has since suspended all tennis tournaments in China and Hong Kong and, together with the WTA Player Council, is seeking unimpeded access to the tennis player.

Tennis Australia has supported the action of its security on the ground that, under the Open’s “ticket conditions of entry … clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political” are disallowed. Tennis Australia argues that spectators, in purchasing a ticket to watch the tennis, agree to these conditions.

However, these conditions constitute a contract of adhesion, also known as a “boilerplate contract.”

A contract of adhesion is ordinarily valid, even though it is drafted by a party in a strong bargaining position, such as Tennis Australia, and not rejected by the spectator who purchases the ticket.

But, as explained in Graham v. Scissor-Tail, Inc, such a contract may be invalid if its terms do not fall within the reasonable expectations of the spectator.

But, more importantly, the security’s order that the female spectator remove her T-shirt, constitutes an egregious violation of a fundamental right to freely express an opinion in a peaceful manner.

Of course, it could be argued that Tennis Australia was fearful that the message on the T-shirt would activate pro-Beijing protests which, in turn, would cause a fracas at the tennis tournament.

Nevertheless, this kind of reasoning is merely speculative. And, in any event, if a riot were to occur, it could then quickly be dealt with at that time by the Open’s security and police.

There is a constitutional right in Australia to political communication, which prevents the parliament from making a law that would abridge freedom of speech. Although this constitutional freedom does not apply to Tennis Australia, it is the recipient of substantial governmental assistance.

For this reason, among others, one would expect that Tennis Australia would value free speech.

Epoch Times Photo
Police stand guard as people participate in a rally against COVID-19 vaccinations outside the main gates at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 22, 2022. (Martin Keep/AFP via Getty Images)

It is instructive to note that what is “political” is very much a matter of subjective perception. It’s an empty vessel, the meaning of which must be filled in by policymakers and trendsetters.

One wonders whether a message like “Go Home, Djoker” would be deemed to be a political message, considering the controversial deportation of Novak Djokovic.

Blasphemous messages or messages with a dubious sexual content may also be allowed. But the adjective “political” certainly refers to relationships between nations, in this case, China and Australia.

The Open was fearful that it would offend the Beijing regime if it were to allow the spectator to flaunt her T-shirt in the tennis arena.

The simple reality is that Tennis Australia, in ordering the removal of the shirt, is kowtowing to the brutal communist regime of China, thereby tarnishing its reputation, which had been acquired during the last decade.

This episode of miscalculated decision-making leads to a more fundamental question, namely whether political agitation should be banned from major sports events.

Historically, politics have always played a significant role in sport and is used as a sword by countries for the purpose of achieving objectives that, by themselves, have nothing to do with the relevant sport.

For example, the United States boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the invasion of Afghanistan. This boycott, in turn, was followed by the boycott by the USSR of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

Next month, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia will not send a diplomatic delegation to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, even though their athletes are free to participate in the Games.

This is a consequence of the demonstrable violations of human rights by the Chinese regime, the extinguishment of civil rights in Hong Kong and the incarceration of pro-democracy politicians, the aggressive expansionist policies of China in the South China Sea among many other transgressions.

Epoch Times Photo
Activists, including members of the local Hong Kong, Tibetan, and Uyghur communities hold up banners and placards in Melbourne, Australia, on June 23, 2021, calling on the Australian government to boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics over China’s human rights record. (William West/AFP via Getty Images)

Although the use of politics as a sword is endemic in sport, this is not how it ought to be.

In an ideal world, politics and sports should inhabit different worlds, even in times of tension. This is because sport brings people of all nations together to compete in a convivial environment for sporting glory.

Sport is a unifying, not a dividing force. However, we do not live in an ideal world and politics and sport are very much intertwined.

But the unfortunate female spectator, who simply used her right of free speech to protest the disappearance of Peng Shuai, could hardly be compared with a country that uses its political clout to boycott the activities of another country.

Moreover, as the WTA itself has acted in the Peng Shuai matter, there is even more reason to allow, and even encourage, spectators to express their support for the tennis player.

In ordering her to remove the T-shirt, Tennis Australia humiliated her and collaborated with an evil regime that makes people disappear if they invoke the displeasure of the Communist state.

As a matter of fact, many T-shirts, worn by spectators, have the most bizarre and contemptuous messages on them to attract attention. Tennis Australia, in focusing on the Peng Shuai T-shirt by banning it from the tennis arena, openly sides with Beijing.

However, if there is a place to make this protest, it is surely in the Australian Open arena because it is the most appropriate forum for keeping the Peng Shuai disappearance into the public limelight.

The right to express an opinion regarding the Peng Shuai matter falls within the reasonable expectation of spectators. The controversy in which Tennis Australia is now embroiled in a problem of its own making.

It is yet another example of illiberalism that is gaining ground in Australia and reveals an unwillingness to stand up for what is right.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Gabriël Moens


Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).

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