By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Tennis greats Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe called for Margaret Court’s name to be stripped from the Australian Open’s second showcourt in a protest at the stadium that drew a frosty response from tournament organizers on Tuesday.
Court, who holds the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles, has been heavily criticized for voicing her religious-based opposition to same-sex marriage and transgender athletes.
Navratilova and McEnroe unfurled a banner emblazoned with “Evonne Goolagong Arena” – a call for the stadium to be renamed after Australia’s Aboriginal seven-times Grand Slam champion.
Navratilova, who is openly gay, climbed into a vacant umpire’s chair and tried to address a small crowd of spectators lingering after a doubles match, but the microphone was cut off soon after she began speaking.
Governing body Tennis Australia, which organises the year’s first Grand Slam, condemned the protest as a breach of protocol.
“We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view,” TA said in a statement.
“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.”
Prior to Rafa Nadal’s fourth round win over Nick Kyrgios, Court was honored in a low-key ceremony at Rod Laver Arena on Monday marking the 50th anniversary of her 1970 calendar Grand Slam.
Tennis Australia President Jayne Hrdlicka said in November that removing Court’s name from the stadium was not on the governing body’s agenda.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; editing by John Stonestreet)
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