UPDATE: John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova admitted Wednesday they were unaware their protest against the name of the Margaret Court Arena violated official rules of the Australian Open and protocol, and have apologized.
“I got in trouble, I am sorry I broke protocol,” Navratilova said on the Tennis Channel. “I had no idea there was this kind of protocol.
”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.”
”Admittedly I was never one to study the rule book carefully or, for that matter, even at times abide by the rules,” McEnroe said in a statement, according to ESPN.
”In this case, I was not aware of the Tennis Australia rules and protocol for issuing credentials. For that I apologize to Tennis Australia and recognize and appreciate the great job they have done to make the Australian Open a great event for the fans, players and myself.”
ORIGINAL REPORT: Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe are joining forces to protest Margaret Court Arena.
The two tennis legends paraded a banner around Margaret Court Arena Tuesday urging Tennis Australia to rename the venue. The banner simply read, “Evonne Goolagong Arena,” in honor of the indigenous Australian who won seven Grand Slam singles titles.
Navratilova and McEnroe have long criticized Court for her fervent anti-LGBTQ views. Court is one of the all-time great women’s tennis players, becoming the first woman in the era of modern pro tennis to sweep the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same calendar year. But she frequently makes homophobic and anti-trans remarks, including in her role as a Pentecostal Christian pastor.
Court has likened gay-rights activists to Adolf Hitler, campaigned against same-sex marriage in her native Australia, and most recently, said transgender children are the work of “the devil.”
In 1990, Court said Navratilova couldn’t be a role model for children, because she is gay.
He wants the Margaret Court Arena to be renamed the Evonne Goolagong Arena - after the first Indigenous Australian Grand Slam winner.— Marthe de Ferrer (@MarthedeFerrer) January 28, 2020
This is so excellent. pic.twitter.com/GB0YAdDK5X
In an interview with BBC, Navratilova, who boycotted an event honoring the 50th anniversary of Court’s 1970 Grand Slam sweep, said she decided it was time for forceful action.
“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,” she said. “And Margaret keeps doubling down in basically attacking the gay and lesbian community.”
Tennis Australia opted to hold a muted celebration for Court this year at the Australian Open, but still honored the anniversary of her historic on-court accomplishment. The organization condemned Navratilova and McEnroe’s protest.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,” Tennis Australia’s statement reads, via BBC. “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.”
In an open letter, which was published Monday, Navratilova says Court’s prejudice against LGBTQ people should disqualify her from being honored with the name of an arena.
“Nobody disputes (Court’s) achievements on the tennis court, and her place in the sport’s history remains as distinguished as it gets,” Navratilova writes, via Tennis.com. “Nobody wants to take away or diminish her career, least of all me. Margaret, Billie Jean and Rod were my childhood heroes. I wanted to be like them.”
This is Navratilova’s second public letter about renaming Margaret Court Arena in recent years. Her first message said Court is a “racist” and “homophobe.”
On Monday, McEnroe also urged Tennis Australia to stop honoring Court in a TV interview.
Navratilova recommends renaming “Margaret Court Arena” to “Evonne Goolagong Arena,” in honor of her on-court success and advocacy work, including among Indigenous Australians.
“Yes, we have free speech in a democracy, but that doesn’t mean that free speech doesn’t have consequences,” Navratilova writes. “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. 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?”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Our report should have mentioned that Navratilova declared in a 2018 tweet she is opposed to transgender inclusion in women’s sports. Since then, however, she has apologized for saying trans athletes were “cheating” and tempered her view following a BBC documentary, to say her primary goal is to promote fairness for women and girls: “I think we need to include as many transgender athletes as possible within elite sports while keeping as level a playing field as possible... Society has changed so much. The rules certainly need to evolve... If you don’t adapt, you’ve got problems. So we’ll keep adapting and try to find a happy way forward.”