By Mike Hitch
Tennis Australia has reprimanded grand slam greats John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova for using the Australian Open to protest against Margaret Court’s problematic behaviour.
The pair held up a sign on the court on Tuesday that read “Evonne Goolagong Arena” – a not-so-subtle nod calling for the Margaret Court Arena to be instead renamed after the champion indigenous player.
Court, 77, has sparked multiple recent controversies with her opposing views against same-sex marriage and transgender people in sport.
In the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of her Grand Slam, Tennis Australia was significantly torn over the commemoration of its greatest player, opting to ‘honour’ her achievements instead of celebrating the player.
In a statement released to AAP, Tennis Australia denounced McEnroe and Navratilova’s display as a violation of the body’s protocols and a disruption of the Australian Opens integrity.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,” the statement reads.
“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.”
The 24-time Grand Slam winner has a history inciting outrage, winning the award for ‘Homophobic Comment of the Year’ at the annual 2018 GLORIAs (Gay & Lesbian Outrageous, Ridiculous and Ignorant comment Awards) in Sydney.
Court, who is now a Pentecostal Christian minister in Perth, has previously claimed that homosexuality is an unholy “lust for the flesh”, insisted that LGBTIQ tendencies in young people were “all the devil” and likened gay people to Hitler.
The arena, named after Court in 2003, caused outrage even at its unveiling with LGBTQI Tennis greats such as Billie Jean King repeatedly calling for the decision to be undone.
Despite public support, McEnroe soon apologised for breaking these “protocols” when he pulled the on-court protest calling for the arena’s renaming.
The US ex-tennis star spoke about the event on Channel 9’s Today, noting that he did not expect the stunt to breach Tennis Australia’s rules.
“I didn’t read the rule book a whole lot when I was playing,” McEnroe told Today on Wednesday.
“In this case, I was unaware that if they give you a credential … that there is certain protocols you are supposed to follow.
“I think Tennis Australia has done a fantastic job … I get where they are coming from.”
However, McEnroe still believes that Court’s past comments are well out of bounds.
“What she said in the past, her comments, to me go over the line of what should be acceptable, in my opinion,” he said.
“I would say to Margaret that ‘you are a tremendous champion. You should be perfectly entitled to your beliefs.
“But I would say that (she needs) a little bit more understanding about each and every person’s, you know, the way they live their lives.
Navratilova also confirmed to the Tennis Channel on Wednesday that she had “no idea” about the Open’s protocol against protests but also remained firm that Court’s actions outweigh her achievements.
“Had I known, I would have done it differently. I would have still tried to make my statement, which is that you name buildings after not what people did on the court, but also off the court, the whole body of work,” she said.