Navratilova and McEnroe apologise over Margaret Court protest at Australian Open

Martina Navratilova has apologised for breaking Australian Open protocol by staging a protest calling for the name of Margaret Court Arena to be changed.

The former Wimbledon champion is a critic of Court's views on the LGBTIQ community.

After playing in a legends' match on Tuesday, Navratilova climbed into the umpire's chair and began to speak about the issue.

The TV feed was abruptly cut but along with fellow former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, Navratilova then paraded a banner she had made which read: "Evonne Goolagong Arena", the name they would like the stadium to adopt.

Goolagong is a seven-time former grand slam singles champion and a trailblazer for Aboriginal tennis.

Court was recognised with a short ceremony on Rod Laver Arena on Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of her calendar Grand Slam.

It went off without incident bar the waving of a handful of rainbow flags.

Court was presented with a replica trophy by Laver but was not given a microphone to address the crowd herself.

Following the official launch of the remodeled Margaret Court Arena in 2015, Navratilova wrote an open letter criticising Court's comments about the LGBTIQ community and recommending that tennis officials rename the arena.

Margaret Court watches on at the official relaunch of the stadium named after her. Credit: AP

Court, a former world number one has been widely criticised for her very public opposition to gay marriage and her inflammatory statements on LGBTIQ issues.

In 2017 the Australian tennis legend said the sport was "full of lesbians".

Now a Christian Pastor, Court also stated her belief that transgender children are the "work of the devil" in a radio interview.

Australia's Margaret Court in action against America's Billie Jean King in 1971. Credit: PA

Speaking on Tennis Channel, for whom she is working during the Australian Open, Navratilova said: "I got in trouble.

I am sorry I broke protocol, I had no idea there was this kind of protocol.

"Had I known I would have done it differently.

"I do apologise for breaking protocol.

"I did not mean to do that."

In a statement posted on her website, the nine time Wimbledon champion outlined her reasons for wanting to change the name of the court:

"When airports, buildings, streets or stadiums are named after particular people, it is done, or at least should be done, to honour exceptional human beings, our heroes.

"But Margaret Court does not belong in that company or category".

Navratilova goes onto explain how Margaret Court was an inspiration, but concludes: "It pains me to be saying this, but the Margaret Court Arena must be renamed."

Navratilova and McEnroe battled it out in the mixed doubles match at Wimbledon last year. Credit: PA

Navratilova's actions were met with a stern rebuke from Australian Open organisers, who said in a statement: "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."

In his playing career McEnroe was renowned for his short temper, and now features in a range of tennis tournament coverage. Credit: PA

John McEnroe also apologised for his part in the protest in a statement read out by employer ESPN, saying: "Admittedly I was never one to study the rule book carefully or, for that matter, even at times abide by the rules.

"In this case, I was not aware of the Tennis Australia rules and protocol for issuing credentials.

"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."

In a video posted by Eurosport UK on Monday, the American described Margaret Court as a "crazy aunt" and a "nightmare" for Australian tennis.

McEnroe, a former world number one, addresses Serena Williams in the video saying:

"Do me a favour, get two more Grand Slams this year so we can get to 25 and we can leave Margaret Court and her offensive views in the past where they both belong."

On February 2, the Australian Open hosts the 'Glam Slam' finals.

The event is recognised as one of the world’s biggest LGBTQI+ tennis tournaments.