Australian Open organizers have accused tennis greats, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe of breaching tournament protocols after the pair protested against Aussie great, Margaret Court on Tuesday.
Court has been criticized in many quarters for her statements on LGBT matters and opposition to same sex marriage, with critics demanding that her name be taken off the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne Park.
The controversy heightened when Tennis Australia honoured the 24-time major winner earlier in the week on the occasion of the 50-year anniversary of her Calendar Slam.
McEnroe and Navratilova have been very vocal in their criticisms of Court, and the pair re-ignited their protests on Tuesday.
Following the conclusion of a veteran doubles match on Tuesday morning, Navratilova went up to the umpires’ chair to address the small crowd on the issue, but the television feed cut off on the orders of Tennis Australia.
“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…”, the American started, before the transmission ended.
McEnroe and Navratilova then held up a banner reading ‘Evonne Goolagong Arena’, suggesting their preferred name for the current Margaret Court Arena.
Goolagong won seven grand slam singles titles during her career and was a pioneer for indigenous Australian tennis.
McEnroe and Navratilova were subsequently reprimanded by Tennis Australia for their actions.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view”, read a statement from the tournament organizers.
“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 stuck to her guns in a subsequent interview with the BBC, explaining that the perceived lack of action by Tennis Australia prompted the latest protests.
“I thought we got it going a couple of years ago. 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”.
“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.”
The 63-year-old Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, also expressed her objection to Court’s stance on LGBT matters in an open letter to tennis.com, describing her views as “hateful and hurtful” and “injurious to countless vulnerable people”.
“When Margaret goes out of her way to single out a group of people and tell them they don’t deserve equal rights, that they are less than good parents, that they are not godly, that’s not merely free speech”, Navratilova said in the letter. “It’s hateful and hurtful speech and it’s injurious to countless vulnerable people”.
“Why not pick someone whom every child can look up to and want to emulate—a champion who inspires and motivates young and old to do their best and be their best every day?”
“For me, that person is Evonne Goolagong”.