Protesters held up a banner reading “Where is Peng Shuai” during the match between China’s Wang Qiang and American Madison Keys, and one protester wore a T-shirt with the same slogan supporting Peng.
Security guards at the Australian Open on Friday ended the protest, according to Max Mock, who was one of three people who took part in the demonstration.
Mock told CNN that security guards initially confiscated the banner, citing a ban on the tournament on political tools. The guards told the protesters that they could stay if they covered their shirts but did not return the banner.
Mock said CNN learned the confiscation occurred far from the stadium where Wang and Keys were playing, as the trio eventually left Melbourne Park with the sign.
Tennis player Nicholas Mahut also accused the organizers of succumbing to outside pressure.
One of the three “affiliate partners” of the Australian Open is liquor company Luzhou Laojiao, which organizers said was the largest Chinese sponsorship deal in the tournament’s history when the sponsorship deal was announced in 2018.
“We are delighted to welcome Luzhou Laojiao into the partner family of the Australian Open, an important event in the history of our organization,” said Richard Hesselgrave, Senior Revenue Officer at Tennis Australia.
“We have made no secret that China and the region are a major priority for the Australian Open, and that we take our role as a major tournament in the Asia-Pacific region very seriously.”
Tennis Australia has not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment on the handling of the protest.
CNN affiliate Channel 7 reported a response from the tournament organizer Saturday that said, “Under our ticket terms, we do not allow commercial or political clothing, banners, or banners.”
“Peng Shuai’s safety is our primary concern. We continue to work with the WTA and the global tennis community to get more clarity on her situation and will do everything in our power to ensure her safety,” she added.
Last November, it was feared that Peng would be held incommunicado by the Chinese government after it accused retired Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of forcing her to have sex during a years-long affair.
Ping later denied the sexual assault allegation. The Women’s Tennis Association has continued to call for a thorough and transparent investigation into Ping’s allegations and has suspended all tournaments in China due to her safety.