Tennis legend Martina Navratilova has criticised the decision by the Australian Open to ban Peng Shuai protest t-shirts ©Getty Images

Martina Navratilova has called the decision taken by the organisers of the Australian Open to ban t-shirts protesting the Peng Shuai scandal as "pathetic", accusing Tennis Australia of "capitulating" to China.

Tops and a banner posing the question "Where is Peng Shuai?" had been confiscated, which Tennis Australia defended, stating it prohibits "clothing, banners or signs that are commercial or political".

Tennis Australia claimed Peng's "safety is our primary concern" and stated it was looking to "seek more clarity" with the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) on her well-being.

Navratilova, winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles during her career, criticised the decision taken by the organisers.

"That’s just pathetic," said Navratilova on Twitter.

"The @wta stands pretty much alone on this."

Later on the Tennis Channel with former player Lindsay Davenport of the United States, the Czech-born star expanded on the issue.

"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," said Navratilova.

"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 Association of Tennis Professionals was pretty weak on this. 

"The International Olympic Committee (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."

Peng, a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion, has been the centre of a scandal in her home nation China after retracting sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, a former senior vice-premier and senior Chinese Communist Party official.

She initially accused Zhang on Chinese social media platform Weibo in November, but later deleted the post.

The WTA and several players expressed concerns for Peng's welfare, despite the IOC having direct contact with the player with two video calls.

WTA Player Council member Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, has admitted there have been few developments regarding contact with Peng.

The Australian Open is set to conclude on Sunday (January 30).