John McEnroe & Martina Navratilova's protest at the Australian Open

John McEnroe & Martina Navratilova’s protest at the Australian Open

The Australian Open is not immune from politics. Sport, in general, never is.

With record numbers of viewers each year tuning in worldwide to watch the broadcast of the year’s first tennis grand slam, it’s unsurprising that controversy can ensue.

And sometimes it’s awesome. Yesterday, legendary tennis champions John McEnroe and Martina Navratilova played at the Legends mixed doubles match.

After the game, Navratilova, the Czech 18 times grand slam champion, climbed the umpire’s chair to speak into the microphone.

“I’ve been speaking out about an issue for a while now,” she began. “John McEnroe is here to join me and push the conversation forward.”

The broadcast feed was then severed. 

The pair proceeded to walk off the courts in Margaret Court Arena, holding a cloth sign with the words “Evonne Goolagong Arena” in multi-coloured dot painting style font.

Prior to the game, Navratilova, who married Russian businesswoman Julia Lemigova in 2014, revealed the banner on her Instagram account.

The Australian called it a ‘stunt’. Tennis Australia called it “a breach of protocol.”

The two tennis champions have become prominent foot soldiers for a growing campaign, as the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court’s 1970 Grand Slam win approaches, to rename the city’s second largest tennis court.

Court’s discriminatory views on race, homosexuality and gender have made her a controversial figure and cast doubt on her status as someone worthy of the term ‘living Aussie treasure’.

Evonne Goolagong is an Australian Aboriginal former world No. 1 tennis player and became the leading Australian pro on tour after Margaret Court retired in 1977.

In a public statement, the organization behind the Australian Open, Tennis Australia, said: “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.”

Tennis Australia have separated themselves from the other party too. In another statement towards the end of 2019, they claimed their organisation “does not agree with Margaret’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years.”

The banner-walk protest, or ‘stunt’ (call it what you may) took place the same day McEnroe released a video condemning Court’s history of bigotry, through Eurosport UK.

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