Being a great athlete doesn't guarantee public reverence: Why Margaret Court Arena should be renamed

Being a great athlete doesn’t guarantee public reverence: Why Margaret Court Arena should be renamed

Revered American tennis great, Billie Jean King, triggered hot debate last week by suggesting that Australia’s Margaret Court Arena be renamed. King, an openly gay woman and a recognised advocate for equality, described Court’s “derogatory attacks” on the LGBTQI community as the final straw.

Of course, King is not the first to extend this thought. Margaret Court, one of Australia’s most celebrated tennis icons and a former world number 1, has been making waves for years with comments ranging from callous to just plain divisive.

Last year, during public discussion about legalising same-sex marriage, Court likened gay activists to Hitler and claimed “tennis was full of lesbians,” suggesting there was a cult-like explanation for it.

“Even when I was playing there were only a couple there but those couple that led took young ones into parties,” Court said. “And what you get at the top is often what you’ll get right through that sport.”

She also levelled blame at Qantas CEO and LGBTQI advocate, Alan Joyce for actively promoting marriage equality.

“We know that homosexuality is a lust of the flesh, so is adultery, fornication, all those things … they too know this, this is why they want marriage, because it’s self-satisfying. I think they know it comes against Christianity, the beliefs of God, but in some way, it’s justifying,” Court said.

Appealing to Australians to take a stand against SSM, Court went on to say that only a minority stood behind the call for change. “Everybody knows that it is wrong but they’re after our young ones, that’s what they are after” she said.

Clearly Court’s views were incorrect. Late last year, the majority of Australians voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage and the bill was passed through Parliament soon after.

But irrespective of this, Court’s outdated and offensive outbursts cannot be tolerated.

Court may have been a world-class tennis player, she may have won 64 titles and been unrivalled in her talent at the time. But her comments over the years have proven that she is not a worthy role model.

When Margaret Court was honoured with an arena in her name back in 2003, a responsibility ran alongside it. One which required Court to embody Australian values, to be a mentor for future generations and to promote inclusivity in tennis and beyond.

King was spot on when she explained this early last week. “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,” she said.

Court, by contrast, has achieved the very opposite.

Her commentary hurts and demeans gay people, and reinforces a stigma that the majority of Australians cast aside long ago.

King is right. Margaret Court is not worthy of the arena we once proudly named in her honour. Because in today’s world, being an exceptional athlete doesn’t guarantee automatic public reverence.

We expect a whole lot more, and that’s a great thing.

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