Billie Jean King has called for Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena to be renamed amid backlash over Court’s divisive views on sexuality. These include negative comments made about members of the LGBT community.Tennis legend Billie Jean King has been named the Australian Open “woman of the year” on the 50th anniversary of her first victory down under, but claims she would refuse to play in the tournament if she was still competing today.
“I was fine until lately she [former Australian tennis player Margaret Court] said so many derogatory things about my community – I’m a gay woman. – about the LGBTIQ community,” said King. “That really went deep in my heart and soul.”
Court won 24 grand slam titles in a glittering career during the sixties and seventies, before becoming a church pastor in her native Australia. Comments she made after a national referendum on same-sex marriage held last year came under heavy fire. She later claimed tennis was “full of lesbians” and made derogatory remarks about transgender children.
King originally lobbied for Court’s name to be attached to the the arena when the stadium was renamed in 2003. But the 70-year old believes her former rival’s divisive opinions have no place in the sport.
“I was a proponent of hers, trying to get her to the best possible court,” King told reporters Friday. “When Rod Laver got given the arena, I said ‘what are you going to do for Margaret?’. But I think it’s really important, if you’re going to have your name on anything, that you’re hospitable, inclusive, you’re opening arms to everyone that comes to a public facility.”
King’s stance was echoed by eighteen-time grandslam champion Martina Navratilova, who called Court a “homophobe” and deplored what she called “sick and dangerous” comments.
The controversy led to rumours of a boycott of the Australian Open, which begins on Monday, from leading stars, though King didn’t go so far as to condone this, suggesting instead that players “look inside their heart” before making a decision.
Court, meanwhile, will not be in attendance at the tournament, opting to go crab fishing instead. She denied that her absence has anything to do with King’s comments, however, insisting that she “doesn’t run from things.”
The controversy is the second faced by tournament organisers this week, after Maria Sharapova, who recently served a fifteen-month ban for failing a drugs test, was invited to conduct the draw.