Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe have incurred the wrath of Tennis Australia by parading a banner at the Australian Open calling for the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.
The banner, painted in aboriginal style by Navratilova, bore the words ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’ in recognition of the four-time Australian Open champion.
Tennis Australia said “two high-profile guests” had breached their protocols.
Navratilova told BBC Sport: “I wanted to push the conversation forward.”
The 18-time Grand Slam champion – three times a winner of the singles in Australia – has long been an outspoken critic of Court’s views on the gay, lesbian and transgender community.
Three years ago, in an open letter to Court, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, she suggested Goolagong – an indigenous Australian who won seven Grand Slam singles titles – would be more worthy of the title.
Navratilova took to the umpire’s chair after a legends’ match, and in front of a small crowd, invited McEnroe – winner of seven Grand Slam singles titles – on to the court where they displayed the banner.
The previous day on Eurosport, McEnroe had criticised Court’s “offensive and homophobic” views.
In an interview with BBC Sport, Navratilova said she was moved to act as she “just felt the conversation had stopped”.
“I thought we got it going a couple of years ago,” she said.
“I thought Tennis Australia would do something – or the government of Victoria, as apparently they are the ones that make the decision – but nothing has happened. And Margaret keeps doubling down in basically attacking the gay and lesbian community.
“My wife Julia said you’re complaining about it, but what are you going to do?
“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.
“I stopped in an art shop and got a canvas and some coloured pens and started colouring ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’ in the aboriginal version – a very amateur version of aboriginal art – as an honour to Evonne Goolagong and where she came from.
“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.”
The Margaret Court Arena was named after the record 24 time Grand Slam singles champion in 2003.
British player Laura Robson wore a rainbow band in her hair when she played on the court in 2012, and years of controversy were re-ignited in 2017 when Court criticised the airline Qantas for becoming an “active promoter for same-sex marriage”.
Court, who is now a Christian pastor, then did an interview for a Christian radio station in which she said tennis is “full of lesbians” and transgender children are the work of “the devil.”
On Monday, Tennis Australia held a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the year Court won all four of the sport’s Grand Slam titles.
“You don’t want to diminish in any way Margaret Court’s achievements,” Navratilova continued.
“She was celebrated yesterday for winning the Grand Slam 50 years ago – absolutely. But when buildings are named after you, or airports, or streets, it’s the body of work, it’s not just one part of your life and then ignore the rest.
“I did not watch it, I did not partake. I did not go. I’m protesting by absence. But the correct thing to do, I think, is to honour her win.”
Tennis Australia have consistently stated they do not agree with Court’s personal views as they do not align with their values of “equality, diversity and inclusion”.
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But in Tuesday’s statement they made clear their displeasure with both Navratilova and McEnroe.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,” the statement read.
“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.”
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