Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe have been reprimanded by Tennis Australian after staging an on-court protest at the Australian Open calling for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.
The tennis legends took to the court on Tuesday (28 January) with a banner bearing the words ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’, in recognition of the Australian ex-player.
The pair were seemingly cut off by organisers after Navratilova climbed into the umpire’s chair and said into the microphone: “I’ve been speaking out about an issue for a while now, and John McEnroe is here to join me and push the conversation forward…”
Over the last few years, there have been repeated calls to rename Margaret Court Arena due to Court’s homophobic and transphobic views.
The 24-time Grand Slam champion, who holds to all-time record for most Grand Slams won (though 13 of these came before the sport turned professional in 1968), has been an outspoken opponent of LGBTQ equality since retiring from the sport and becoming an Evangelical Christian minister.
Navratilova and McEnroe’s protest came just one day after Tennis Australia had commemorated the 50th anniversary of Court’s calendar Grand Slam, where a player wins all four Grand Slam events in a calendar year.
The sporting body had previously tried to distance itself from Court’s views, but reprimanded both Navratilova and McEnroe following their protest on Tuesday.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,” a statement from Tennis Australia read.
Ex-tennis player Margaret Court has been a vocal opponent of LGBTQ equality
“But the Australian Open has regulations and protocols with respect to how any fan, player or guest can use our facility, the event and the global stage it provides. This is to ensure the integrity of our event.
“Two high-profile guests have breached these protocols and we are working through this with them.”
Navratilova, who has faced criticism herself over her comments about transgender athletes, later told BBC Sport she wanted to up the pressure on Tennis Australia and Victoria’s state government to rename the arena.
“My wife Julia said you’re complaining about it, but what are you going to do?”, she said.
“And I’m like, I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve written a letter, I’ve been very vocal, and then when I landed here, and I came to the courts, I had this idea.”
The 18-time Grand Slam winner went on: “John, I ran into him, and on the spur of the moment I asked him because he also talked about renaming the arena. He’s been very supportive of social change in tennis, so it was perfect.
“I wanted to be respectful, but most of all I just wanted to push the conversation forward again. I have no doubt it’s the right thing to do.”
Navratilova herself was forced to apologise last year after saying that trans women competing in female sport was “insane” and “cheating”. She later fronted a BBC documentary exploring the issue of transgender athletes in sport, but has remained critical of greater transgender inclusion in sport.
The naming of Margaret Court Arena has long been an issue of contention at the Australian Open.
In 2012, British player Laura Robson wore a rainbow headband to express solidarity with the LGBTQ community while playing on the court, and in 2017, the court was temporarily renamed to ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’ on Google Maps, after what Google blamed on “user contributions.”