Karl Stefanovic had some strong thoughts about what’s happening in Melbourne as Craig Tiley responded to some misconceptions.
Tennis Australia (TA) CEO Craig Tiley has explained the organisation’s backflip on banning Peng Shuai T-shirts as Karl Stefanovic questioned why they were confiscated in the first place before once again taking aim at “whingeing” stars.
TA initially stood by what tennis legend Martina Navratilova branded a “cowardly” and “weak” decision after video emerged on the weekend of security and police requesting a fan at Melbourne Park remove her shirt highlighting the plight of the Chinese tennis star — who sparked worldwide fears when she “disappeared” after making allegations of sexual abuse against a former top-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party.
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Peng has since been seen in videos and photos shared by Chinese state media but there are concerns those were staged and human rights activists have questioned whether the former doubles star is able to act freely.
After widespread outrage about the T-shirt incident, TA changed its tune and will allow spectators to don “where is Peng Shuai” attire.
Speaking to Tiley on Today on Wednesday morning, Stefanovic said: “The Peng Shuai stuff, reversing that was a no-brainer. Why were these T-shirts banned in the first place?”
Tiley didn’t answer the question directly, instead saying TA had supported efforts to ensure Peng’s safety before adding: “Coming on to the site the terms and conditions are pretty clear. If anyone is coming on to disrupt the comfort or safety of fans, they’re not welcome, but if they want to come on the site and put a T-shirt on and say ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ we’re fine as long as there is no intent to disrupt comfort and safety of fans.”
Some within tennis circles, including veteran reporter Jon Wertheim and French star Nicolas Mahut, questioned whether the original T-shirt ban was because the Australian Open has Chinese sponsors.
Chinese Baijiu distillery Luzhou Laojiao is one of the leading sponsors of the grand slam, with 1573 logos appearing all over Melbourne Park. Court 2, for example, was officially renamed to “1573 Arena” in 2019.
But Tiley denied the T-shirt saga had anything to do with sponsorship dollars. “No, that’s not correct,” Tiley told Today, saying the incident involved a “security guard doing his job”.
Stefanovic said it was the right call for TA to change its mind and allow fans to draw attention to Peng.
“Raising awareness about Peng Shuai I think is very important given she may not be able to do the same for herself,” he said. “And also for the tennis community to fall in behind her and do everything they can to highlight her problems and her cause is very needed so I think that’s a good decision.”
Karl complains but Tiley sets him straight
Last week Stefanovic blasted Daniil Medvedev because the Russian took aim at the “low IQ” Melbourne crowd during his round two win over Nick Kyrgios, which featured boisterous fans on Rod Laver Arena.
Stefanovic said the government should get Medvedev “out of here (Australia)” and on Wednesday he took another crack, while also ripping into Canadian young gun Denis Shapovalov, who on Tuesday accused umpires of giving Rafael Nadal preferential treatment during his quarter-final loss to the Spaniard.
Stefanovic compared their attitudes to that of wheelchair tennis icon Dylan Alcott, who on Tuesday was named Australian of the Year.
“What’s unbelievable is you have on one hand someone like Dylan and on the other hand complainers and whiners like Daniil Medvedev and Denis the Menace from Canada,” the TV host said.
“These guys, come on, can we just feel lucky to be playing in a tournament like this?”
Tiley tried to set Stefanovic straight over Medvedev.
“I think behind the scenes it’s very different to how you describe that,” Tiley said. “I promise you he is a really good guy. I deal with him every day. The crowd will get to know him. He is a really good guy.
“I think Denis, there’s a lot of passion on the court with Denis and he too is a good guy. He said he misspoke. He didn’t mean any of that and in the heat of the moment these things happen.”
Stefanovic then signed off the interview with another Medvedev reference.
“Thank you for being with us today. We look forward to seeing you over the weekend and I don’t look forward to meeting Daniil Medvedev so if you can make sure that doesn’t happen at the tournament,” he said.