Flat White

Where is Tennis Australia’s credibility?

27 January 2022

12:00 PM

27 January 2022

12:00 PM

Tennis is a pretty simple game. Two people take turns to hit a fuzzy ball over a net. That’s it. It takes a special kind of ineptitude to turn something so simple into an absolute fiasco.

But credit where credit is due… That’s exactly what Tennis Australia has done, and with a level of excellence that has dismayed us all.

Tennis Australia insisted last Friday that a couple of spectators remove T-shirts and a banner that asked, ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ before entering the grounds.

Peng Shuai is the former world doubles Number One who seems to have been disappeared by the Chinese Communist Party after accusing a former high-ranking Party official of sexual assault.

Tennis Australia said the T-shirts violated their strict policy banning political statements at the tennis.

Wait. What?

Tennis Australia themed last Wednesday ‘First Nations Day at The Australian Open’, highlighting Indigenous issues. That’s political.

They themed Monday ‘Pride Day’, focusing on LGBTQ issues. If you don’t think that’s political, have a chat to our greatest tennis champion, Margaret Court.

Tennis Australia even distributed 5,000 rainbow flags on Monday so that spectators could draw attention to sexual differences. It’s the only way to enjoy the tennis these days, apparently.

But then the social justice worriers at Tennis Australia went and wet the bed over a couple of T-shirts drawing attention to a sexual assault victim.

In using what is arguably the nation’s greatest sporting event to parade their diversity, inclusion and equity credentials, Tennis Australia only served to highlight the fact that when it comes to political correctness, they are all signal and no virtue.

And their signals point entirely in the wrong direction.

Tennis Australia was not concerned about political statements or else they would not have worked so hard to politicise entire days of people hitting a rubbery ball over a string net.

‘Oh joy! There’s an Indigenous person – inclusivity!’

‘Oh wow! There’s a homosexual person – diversity!’

‘Oh no! There’s a woman sexually assaulted and detained by a totalitarian regime – nothing to see here! And how dare you mix politics with tennis! We’d like you to leave, please.’

I don’t mean to be crass, but since we are talking tennis, after every nine games at the Australian Open there is a call for ‘new balls, please’. I don’t think Tennis Australia has any, at all.

Tennis Australia’s real concern seemed to be that major sponsor, Chinese distillery 1573, might not like awkward questions about a woman disappearing.

The reaction from politicians, former players, and spectators was fierce.

It’s one thing to allow China to sponsor a tennis event. It’s another thing to allow China to sponsor the suppression of free expression.

Faced with the prospect that hundreds of people might turn up at Melbourne Park dressed in ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ T-shirts, Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley announced that free speech was suddenly a thing after all.

Who knew that the biggest serve at this year’s Australian Open would be humble pie?

It was clearly one thing for Tennis Australia to have Victoria Police muscle up on a couple of non-approved T-shirts. But the prospect of police dealing with hundreds of thought criminals – formerly known as tennis fans – was more than our Grand Slam could bear.

Mr Tiley announced on Tuesday that the T-shirts would be allowed, provided they ‘were not coming as a mob’.

What a ‘mob of T-shirts’ looks like is anyone’s guess, but it certainly sounds scary. A ‘pride of gay flags’ is certainly nicer. Unless you’re the ‘winningest’ female Grand Slam player in history, of course.

Mr Tiley went on to say that the ‘Where is Peng Shuai’ T-shirts could be worn if they were ‘not coming to be disruptive’.

I would have thought that using Victoria police to enforce a communist-friendly dress code was disruptive. But maybe that’s just me? I’m still getting used to this quasi-communist state thing that our betters are busy implementing.

Tennis Australia should not think they will get praise for suddenly finding their principles. It’s fair to say, if you’ll excuse the pun, they have been all over the court on this issue.

Tennis Australia did not suddenly become proponents of free speech because they believe in it. They just calculated that free speech was less damaging than bad optics.

They have principles, alright. But when those principles aren’t working, they have others that they can call upon.

Anyway, if Tennis Australia love China so much, here’s an idea inspired by the Chinese cultural revolution.

Tennis Australia officials should be forced to parade around centre court today dressed in a ‘Where is Peng Shuai?’ T-shirt.

On Friday, they should be ordered to don a ‘Where is Tennis Australia’s Credibility?’ T-shirt.

On Saturday they could celebrate the Women’s Final adorned in a ‘Where is Margaret Court?’ T-shirt.

Of course, the official uniform for Sunday’s Men’s Final should be the ‘Where is Novak Djokovic?’ T-shirt.

If you’re going to stage the Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity Grand Slam, then you really should dress for the occasion.

Sadly, Tennis Australia’s behaviour over the past two weeks is typical of what is wrong with so much of Australia right now. Everyone is so afraid of offending other people that we twist and contort ourselves into impossible positions.

What happened to simply standing up for what is right? What happened to freedom of expression? What happened to Australia?

Worse, Tennis Australia has mimicked the mini tyrants that seem to be everywhere right now; making nonsense rules, bossing everyone around with orders about what to do, what to think, what to inject and now, weirdly, what to wear.

As Alexandra Marshall wrote this week, ‘China sneezed, and Australia caught communism’.

We must not allow it to be game, set and match. Oh, and where is Peng Shuai?

You can follow James on Twitter. You can order his new book Notes from Woketopia here.

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