Tennis legend Billie Jean King has thrown her support behind a push to rename Margaret Court Arena, declaring that she would refuse to play there if she was still on the tour because of the former n champion’s views on homosexuality.
King, who was twice crowned as n Open champion, said on the eve of this year’s tournament that she had recently changed her mind about whether the controversial Court should continue to have an arena named in her honour.
“I was fine until lately, she says so many derogatory things about my community,” the openly gay 74-year-old said.
“I personally don’t think she should have her name [on the arena] anymore. If you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can’t imagine the public would want someone to have their name on something.”
The name of Margaret Court Arena has come under increasing scrutiny as the 24-time grand slam winner continues to make disparaging comments about the LGBTQI community.
Last year the Pentacostal minister, who was fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage, told a Christian radio station that transgender children were influenced by the devil.
“That put me over the edge because we are all God’s children,” King said.
“It’s the last thing we need. If they’re feeling that they are the opposite gender to what they are, you have no idea what they go through.”
King, who will present the trophy to this year’s female champion, said she was initially a supporter of Court having a stadium named after her because of her sporting accomplishments.
“I used to talk to the people in when Rocket, Rod Laver got the arena, and I said ‘what are you going to do for Margaret?’. So I was really for her to have it,” she said.
But on Friday she said: “If I were playing today I would not play [on Margaret Court Arena]”. King stopped short of advocating for the current crop of players to boycott the court.
“I think it’s really important if you’re going to have your name on anything that you’re hospitable and you’re inclusive, you’re open arms to everyone who comes,” she said.
King’s views echo those of fellow lesbian tennis champion Martina Navratilova, who recently renewed calls for the stadium name to be changed in the lead-up to this year’s Open.
“You keep her in the Hall of Fame,” Navratilova told the New York Times.
“That Margaret has definitely homophobic views does not take away those accomplishments, no doubt about that. But you do not name a building after her. Would you be naming a new building after her now? No, there’s no chance.”
King said that she was hoping Court would have attended this year’s tournament so the pair could have a discussion about the issue. The two used to play against each other and came from the same generation of players.
Court has told organisers that she wouldn’t be at Melbourne Park for the Open, but offered no reason why.
“I was looking forward to seeing her, we usually sit together … We usually have lunch,” King said.
However it’s unlikely that Court would have been able to sway King’s point of view, saying that “she believes in conversion, she thinks I can go back to straight.”
Tournament director Craig Tiley said the matter of a name change was not up to Tennis , as that responsibility fell to the state government. He said the organisation had not recommended Court’s name be stripped.
“Everyone has the right to say what they want to say but everyone has the right to respond,” he said.
“Billie Jean knows that we are aligned in our thinking when it comes to her views.”