With a total of 24 grand slam singles titles to her name, Margaret Court’s achievements in tennis make her undeniably one of Australia’s greatest ever sporting icons. However it is her views off the court that have seen her make headlines in recent years, as she remains outspokenly opposed to gay marriage on religious grounds.
When gay marriage was legalised following a plebiscite in 2o17, Court was chastised for her belief that marriage should solely be a union between a man and a woman, and the 77-year-old, who previously attended the Open at Melbourne Park every January, has not returned to the tournament since.
Now though, ahead of the 50th anniversary of her grand slam year in 1970, Court has divided opinion once again, calling on Tennis Australia to extend the same respect to her as they showed fellow grand slam winner Rod Laver earlier this year, who won all four major titles the year before Court, back in 1969.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, she said: “I think Tennis Australia should sit and talk with me. They have never phoned me. Nobody has spoken to me directly about it. I think they would rather not confront it.”
The former world number one added: “They brought Rod in from America. If they think I’m just going to turn up, I don’t think that is right. I think I should be invited. I would hope they would pay my way to come like they paid for his, and honour me. If they are not going to do that, I don’t really want to come.”
Court, who famously played doubles with Evonne Goolagong, also has her name bestowed upon one of the arenas in Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre, however people have repeatedly called for her name to be stripped from the venue due to her outspoken beliefs.
A spokesperson for Tennis Australia told the Sydney Morning Herald that no decision has yet been made on how Court’s anniversary will be marked, but added that “her views do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion”.
Tennis legend Margaret Court has threatened to boycott the 50th anniversary of her grand slam year if she is not treated like Rod Laver. Should more be done to recognise her career successes despite her controversial views? #9Today pic.twitter.com/E9m29xmanx
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) November 6, 2019
Public opinion is split on the matter though with many people believing that Court’s Christian beliefs have nothing to do with her sporting achievements. While others have called for Tennis Australia to stand firm and refrain from honouring Court.
The issue was debated on several breakfast TV shows on Thursday, with ABC Breakfast’s Michael Rowland stating that Tennis Australia must recognise Court’s sporting success. He said: “On a purely tennis front they really have to and she’s got a point.”
Today show host Deb Knight agreed, saying: “You’ve got to tip your hat to the amazing achievements that she has reached in tennis. You can’t ignore that.
“Do we erase history because we don’t agree with her? We can’t do that, can we? You can’t just not acknowledge what she has achieved in tennis.”
However others vehemently disagreed, including Triple M’s Lawrence Mooney who described Court’s views as “abhorrent”. He told the Today show: “You can’t use ‘her views are popular’ and ‘she has a right to use them’ to be homophobic, you just can’t be. And if you’re homophobic there’s no space for you in public life.
“Discriminating about sexuality is a crime, so it is legislated against. Margaret Court’s opinions on same sex marriage and sexuality are abhorrent and she should be hounded out of the sport until she falls into line.
“It’s absolutely abhorrent.”
Social media was filled with opposing views on the matter too, with one person writing: “I posit that her tennis career achievement has been properly recognised. So has her bigotry. You don’t get a free pass for unlimited adulation just because you excelled at a sport – real life counts too [sic].”
Another commented: “A champion is more than just the results in your sport. It’s how you treat people and Rod deserves the attention he gets as he gives his time and treats all others with respect. She won a few games, but she is not on Rod Lavers level at all.”
While another argued: “Her views should have no impact on her magnificent tennis career full stop.”