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By Alberto Amalfi | Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Margaret Court

Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean and John McEnroe have called on Tennis Australia to rename Margaret Court Arena to Evonne Goolagong Arena in honor of another Aussie legend.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Condemnation and criticism came to court pitting Hall of Fame champions in adversarial roles.

Hall of Famers Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe staged an on-court protest against Margaret Court Arena retaining its name at Melbourne Park on Tuesday night.

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The day after Tennis Australia recognized the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court's 1970 Grand Slam, Navratilova and McEnroe joined forces unfurling a banner on court advocating renaming Margaret Court Arena to Evonne Goolagong Arena in another of another legendary Aussie champion.

"It is now exactly clear who Court is: an amazing tennis player and a racist and a homophobe," Navratilova wrote in an open letter expressing her support of the name change. "Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights. Note to Court: we are human beings, too. She is demonizing trans kids and trans adults everywhere."

Navratilova climbed up on the umpire's chair to address the issue after a senior doubles match, but audio was cut off. Tennis Australia issued a statement on the Hall of Famers' 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 said in a statment. "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."

Court, who holds the all-time Grand Slam singles record with 24 major championships, has been called out as a bigot by Navratilova, McEnroe and fellow Hall of Famer Billie Jean King for her views on homosexuality and opposition to same-sex marriage.

The 77-year-old Court, a devout Christian Pentecostal minister in Perth, Australia, has claimed pro tennis is "full of lesbians", alleged older lesbians have preyed upon younger players and has been a vocal critic of same-sex marriage.

The all-time Grand Slam champion leader, Court is the only player in history—man or woman—to win career Grand Slams in singles, doubles and mixed doubles twice. Maureen Connolly, Steffi Graf and Court are the only women in history to win the calendar-year Grand Slam.

In recent years, Navratilova, McEnroe and King, a former Court rival, have called on Tennis Australia to rename Margaret Court Arena to Evonne Goolagong Arena in honor of another Aussie legend.

"I was fine until Margaret said lately so many derogatory things about my community," King said in a past interview. "I'm a gay woman ... that really went deep in my heart and soul.

"If you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can't imagine the public would want somebody (with those views) to have their name on something."

Court counters her critics are bullying her and trying to diminish her legacy over her religious views.

“I think it’s bullying. I think they always said that we were bullying them but I think there’s a lot of bullying gone on, intimidation,” Court told Sky News. “I think everybody has their views. I have nothing against gay people and you know we have them in our church and I help them. (But) this is a Judaeo-Christian nation and I believe we should protect marriage.”

The 7,500-seat venue, which has a retractable roof and also hosts basketball and net ball, was officially re-named “Margaret Court Arena” as a tribute to the 11-time Australian Open champion on the eve of the 2003 Australian Open.

Prior to his protest, McEnroe mocked Court's history of "using the bible of the dummy to say whatever she wants."

"There's only one thing longer than the list of Margaret Court's tennis achievements: it's her list of offensive and homophobic statements," McEnroe said on his Eurosport show The Commissioner of Tennis. "Just a few examples: during the apartheid regime in South Africa, she said 'I love South Africa, they have the racial situation better organized than anyone else.' What?!

"About transgender children and LGBTIQ [she said]: 'It's all the work of the devil. Tennis if full of lesbians. It is sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality.' Margaret Court is actually a ventriloquist using the bible of the dummy to say whatever she wants."

McEnroe took a shot at Tennis Australia for its stance of recognizing but not celebrating the 50th anniversary of Court's 1970 Grand Slam season.

"Well, it doesn't work that way, you can't separate the person from her achievements," McEnroe said. "Look at me: if you recognize the fact I won seven Grand Slams. Guess what? Then you gotta celebrate the fact that I had the loudest mouth in the history of the tennis tour."

Court's supporters say sport should not step into religious and political issues and argue the Hall of Famer is being persecuted for her strong religious beliefs.

Margaret Court's adult children say their mother is simply practicing her right of free speech and suggests Tennis Australia and other champions have no business criticizing her beliefs.

"Mom has always been very bible based in her Christian beliefs and that is the reason why we have such a strong loving family," Court's four children wrote in an open letter published by Australian media. “It is hard for her family to understand how her current lifestyle would possibly affect her tennis career in any way.

"It is disappointing to see Tennis Australia in the Open Letter amalgamating her sporting career which she won for her nation. We hope in this great nation of ours that generations to come will continue to have freedom of speech to stand for what they believe in."


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