Women's Sport: Why did Martina Navratilova stage a protest at the Australian Open

Wimbledon Court No. 1 Celebration in support of the Wimbledon Foundation

Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam winner, staged a protest at this year's Australian Open, alongside John McEnroe.

Following an exhibition doubles match at the tournament, Navratilova spoke to the crowd using the umpire's chair. “I’ve been speaking out about an issue for a while now,” she told the crowd, “and John McEnroe is here to help.” 

The next thing the crowd knew, McEnroe and Navratilova were holding up a banner that read: “Evonne Goolagong Arena". 

The action was a call for the renaming of Melbourne Park's second-biggest stadium. It is currently called the Margaret Court Arena after Australia's 24-time Grand Slam winner and just the day before the tournament had honoured Court for the Grand slam she won 50 years before. 

The reason for this protest is that the Court has become a controversial figure after making a series of homophobic comments and speaking out against equal marriage.

Following the protest, Tennis Australia criticised the McEnroe and Navratilova for breaking protocol: “We embrace diversity, inclusion and the right for people to have a view, as well as their right to voice that view.

“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 two players apologised for this. Navratilova said to The Tennis Channel: “I got in trouble. I am sorry I broke protocol. But I would still have tried and made my statement, which is basically you name buildings after not what people just did on the court but also off the court, the whole body of work.” 

2019 Australian Open - Day 9

McEnroe said: “Admittedly I was never one to study the rule book carefully or for that matter, even at times abide by the rules.

“For that, I apologise to Tennis Australia and recognise and appreciate the great job they have done to make the Australian Open a great event for the fans, players and myself.”

This year's Grand Slam winner Djokovic also spoke out on the controversy. He said: “Margaret is a huge champion, a tennis hero in Australia, and also around the world. One of the most important tennis players in the history of women’s game. Of course, when she says something like that, it has a huge impact.”

“I don’t support … what she said. I don’t think it was the right thing to say. But she probably has her reasons and we have to respect that she has a difference in opinion. That’s all there is to it.”

Navratilova and McEnroe aren't the first to call for the renaming of the Margaret Court Arena - Billie Jean King did so in 2018. While Court's name remains attached to the Arena, the debate won't simply vanish - sport is an increasingly political sphere and it is unlikely this protest will be the last.

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