American tennis legend Billie Jean King has called for the Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open to have its name changed due to the former great’s outspoken views on gay issues.
Three days before the 2018 tournament starts King — after whom the US Open’s Flushing Meadows complex is named — stated that were she a competitor today she would not want to play on what is Melbourne Park’s secondary show court after Rod Laver Arena.
While stopping short of calling for a boycott, the 74 year-old former champion believes it is no longer appropriate for Court, who won a total of 64 Grand Slam titles in singles and doubles, to be honoured in this way.
Billie Jean King believes the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne should be renamed
Former Australian tennis great Margaret Court (left) has outspoken views on gay issues
‘I think it’s really important if you’re going to have your name on anything that you’re hospitable, inclusive, open arms to everyone that comes,’ said King.
‘I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community — I’m a gay woman — and that really went deep in my heart and soul. It’s really up to the people of Australia. I know it’s not as easy as people think.
‘I personally don’t think she should have her name any more. If you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can’t imagine the public would want somebody to have her name on something. We’re all God’s children so I probably don’t think it’s appropriate to have her name.
‘If I were playing today, I would not play on it. Maybe some of the gay players won’t want to play on there. I’m not encouraging them to do anything.
The arena, which will be used as part of the Australian Open over the next two weeks
‘I have my name on the whole facility in the US (New York). Every time I see my name up there, I can hardly breathe because of the responsibility that goes with it.
‘I would welcome Margaret, I would welcome whoever, whether I agree with them or not is not important. I just think she’s gotten really derogatory. When she talked about children of transgenders being from the devil, that put me over the edge.
‘It took me until I was 51 to feel comfortable in my own skin. Shame-based things are very difficult so that’s the last thing we need.’
Court will not attend this year’s event, and has opted to go on holiday instead in her native Western Australia, where she is a pastor at the Victory Life Centre, a church with deeply conservative views on social issues.
King (left), who is openly gay, celebrating at Wimbledon during her days as a tennis player
She was an opponent of legalising gay marriage in November’s recent referendum in Australia, but does not consider herself homophobic.
Craig Tiley, Tournament Director of the Australian Open – which has invited King as a guest to Melbourne on the fiftieth anniversary of her winning the singles title – emphasised that the organisation does not share the opinions of Court, who had it named after her in 2003.
‘Our position hasn’t changed,’ he said. ‘Margaret’s views are her views. They are not the views of our organisation and not the views of our sport.
‘We’ve been consistent with our view, even to the point of contacting Margaret and telling her that.’
Court pictured at the 1973 Wimbledon championships in England during her own career