Tennis greats Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe have earned a rebuke from Tennis Australia (TA) for an on-court protest at the Australian Open calling for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed after Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
- Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe were on an outside court when they unveiled a banner reading “Evonne Goolagong Arena”
- Navratilova wrote a open letter saying it would be fitting if Margaret Court Arena was renamed after the seven-time major singles champion
- Tennis Australia held a ceremony at the Australian Open to mark 50 years since Court completed her singles Grand Slam
Navratilova and McEnroe have been critics of Margaret Court — who holds the record for most major singles titles with 24 — because of her views on race, homosexuality and the transgender community.
TA has previously ignored calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed, while it held a ceremony on Monday evening to mark 50 years since she won all four major tournaments in the same year to complete the Grand Slam.
TA said the ceremony was a recognition of her sporting achievements only and has moved to distance itself from her views.
Navratilova and McEnroe were on an outside court at Melbourne Park when they unveiled a banner reading “Evonne Goolagong Arena”.
@MtTimCallanan: “John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova staged a mini protest on Margaret Court Arena this morning unfurling this banner”
Navratilova, who had been playing a legends’ doubles match on the court, reportedly attempted to make a speech via the microphone on the unoccupied umpire’s chair, only for the live video feed to be cut soon after she began talking.
TA released a statement, saying the pair had breached protocols.
“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.”
Tennis.com also published a letter penned by Navratilova, in which she expressed her view that Margaret Court Arena must be renamed.
“Nobody disputes her achievements on the tennis court, and her place in the sport’s history remains as distinguished as it gets,” Navratilova wrote.
“Nobody wants to take away or diminish her career, least of all me. Margaret, Billie Jean [King] and Rod [Laver] were my childhood heroes. I wanted to be like them.
“So, it pains me to say this, but Margaret Court Arena must be renamed.
“As a worthy replacement, my vote goes to Evonne Goolagong. Evonne is the embodiment of what a role model or hero truly is.
“Her heritage, her success against the odds, her Hall of Fame career and her exemplary life off-court, in which she has given so much of herself to so many causes, are all attributes we can celebrate wholeheartedly.”
Navratilova said it would be fitting if the stadium was named after Goolagong Cawley, who won seven major singles titles and was ranked number one during her decorated career.
“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?” Navratilova wrote.
“For me, that person is Evonne Goolagong.”
McEnroe slams Court’s ‘offensive views’
McEnroe, in a video released on Monday, described Court as Australia’s “crazy aunt”.
@Eurosport_UK “Please win two more Grand Slams so we can leave Margaret Court and her offensive views in the past where she belongs” John McEnroe aka the Commissioner of Tennis is back and he’s got a request for @SerenaWilliams
He urged Serena Williams, who has claimed 23 major singles titles, to win two more majors this year so “we can leave Margaret Court and her offensive views in the past where they both belong”.
In the latest of his regular, light-hearted “Commissioner of Tennis” videos for Eurosport UK, McEnroe also criticised TA’s decision to recognise Court’s tennis achievements.
“The air quality in Melbourne is not the only nightmare Tennis Australia is having, Margaret Court is another one,” McEnroe said in the video posted to Twitter by the broadcaster.
Court is the pastor of the Victory Life Centre, a Christian church in Perth.
In an interview on ABC Radio Perth last week she said she initially had to push for the 50th anniversary events.
She said her religious views should not affect what she achieved in tennis.
“I teach what the Bible says about things and you get persecuted for it,” she said.
Court attracted criticism in 2017 when she wrote an open letter stating she would boycott Qantas over its support of same-sex marriage.
That kicked off a push for the arena to be renamed in honour of Goolagong, to the point that Google Maps briefly mistakenly renamed it.
In 2013, Court wrote a letter to the editor in a newspaper lamenting the birth of Australian tennis player Casey Dellacqua’s child in a same-sex relationship.
“It is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of a father,” Court wrote.