Tuesday 22 January 2019

Billie Jean King backs renaming Margaret Court Arena after anti-gay comments

Tennis vetera Billie Jean King is in Melbourne to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Australian Open victory (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
Tennis vetera Billie Jean King is in Melbourne to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her Australian Open victory (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Billie Jean King has said one of the main venues for the Australian Open tennis tournament should be renamed because of Margaret Court's comments about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

King, a pioneer for equality and diversity in tennis, said she had initially been a proponent of having Melbourne's Margaret Court Arena named in recognition of the 24-time Grand Slam singles winner's contribution to the sport.

"I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community - I'm a gay woman - about the LBGTIQ community," King said at news conference on Friday. "That really went deep in my heart and soul.

"I personally don't think she should have (her name on the stadium) anymore."

King is attending the Australian Open for the first time in eight years, marking the 50th anniversary of her Australian title.

She said if she was still competing, she would not play at the Margaret Court Arena.

Organisers have named the American tennis veteran as the Australian Open Woman of the Year and launched its "Open4All" initiative to promote equality, diversity and inclusion to coincide with King's visit.

King, one of the original professionals in women's tennis and winner of 12 major singles titles in the Open era, said she had regularly met Court at tournaments in the years since they retired after "we grew up together playing each other".

Court, 75, who holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles across the amateur and Open eras, is now a Christian pastor who lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Her comments before Australia voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage were heavily criticised last year, with 18-time Grand Slam singles winner Martina Navratilova writing an open letter condemning the remarks and urging officials to rename the arena at Melbourne Park.

King said she lobbied on Court's behalf after the centre court at Melbourne Park was named in tribute to Rod Laver. The show court was named after Court in 2003, and was recently upgraded with a roof and bigger capacity.

Court is not attending this year's Australian Open, which starts on Monday.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said Court had a standing invitation to the season-opening major, and would be welcome in future as she had been in the past.

He said there had been "conversation" among stakeholders of Melbourne Park regarding the issue, but there was no process in place to change the name of the stadium.

He said Tennis Australia - a tenant at the venue - would take its lead from the government on the issue.

King said she would not promote a boycott of the stadium, but encouraged players to "seek their own heart and mind" before making a decision.

King said she wished Court was in Melbourne so they could continue the conversation.

"You can have discussion around it. I would be very welcome to Margaret," said King, 74.

"It's really important if you're going to have your name on anything that you're hospitable, you're inclusive, you open your arms to everyone that comes. It's a public facility."


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