Margaret Court is a tennis legend and 2020 will be the 50th year of winning the sport’s Grand Slam — Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Court is also a raging homophobe and transphobe, saying tennis was full of lesbians, campaigning against same-sex marriage in Australia, comparing gays to Hitler and the devil, and calling transgender identity “the work of the devil.” Current and former players want her name removed from the Melbourne arena that hosts next month’s Australian Open.
Officials at the tournament have decided to both honor Court’s Grand Slam at the 2020 event while condemning her remarks on LGBTQ people. In an open letter, the Australian Open explained its decision.
Given the interest in the 50th anniversary of tennis legend Margaret Court’s Grand Slam, we felt it would be worthwhile to share the guiding principles we use at Tennis Australia in acknowledging not just our champions, but everyone who plays our sport.
Tennis Australia recognizes the champions in our sport as a matter of course, whether it be stadium names, naming of parks, statues around the country and trophies and awards during a player’s career. We celebrate sporting heroes who inspire and motivate people through the generations, and who are lauded and respected widely by their peers and the broader community.
As with other great sports in this country and elsewhere, it is common practice to draw a distinction between recognizing champions and celebrating heroes, and it is an important distinction.
Australia is fortunate that Margaret Court’s extraordinary playing achievements form part of our national tennis history.
Naturally, we will be recognizing Margaret and her incredible tennis record, and contrary to many reports, there is no plan to “rewrite history.” As she is aware, planning has been in the works for some time, with interviews and filming having taken place in her home in June this year, along with other opportunities which will be announced closer to the time.
Margaret and her family have been invited to the Australian Open in January. Her outstanding playing career is her tennis legacy and clearly worthy of recognition. We will continue to communicate with Margaret, as we have for many years, regarding events, our recognition of her achievement, our sport and its culture.
However, the philosophy and culture of our sport goes deeper than winning and setting records. We seek to foster a sport that is inclusive and welcoming of everyone. We all bear some responsibility for creating a safe and inclusive society.
As a sport, tennis is unwavering in playing our part. As we have often communicated to Margaret, we respect that everyone has a right to an opinion-and a right to express it. Equally, we all share an obligation that while living our lives freely, we do not harm others, and we understand that there are consequences to our words.
Publicly stated views of intolerance and demeaning language about others can have enormous impact, and are particularly hurtful and harmful to those who believe they are targeted.
We have a big responsibility as a sport to play a leadership role in supporting an inclusive community, and respecting the rights of all Australians, whether or not they play our great sport. Similarly, we believe any public figure has a big responsibility to ensure their views are expressed in a way that demonstrates respect and tolerance,and does not cause harm to, or degrade others.
As a sport, tennis is unwavering in playing our part to ensure an inclusive society. We cannot condone views that fracture our incredible tennis community, nor indeed, the wider community.
It is with all of this in mind that we will continue to promote and celebrate inclusiveness and diversity. We are vocal and proud of our efforts to welcome all sections of our community to all levels of our sport. The tennis court and club should be a place of fun and comfort to everyone, where people from all walks of life get to know each other without fear of judgement or harassment.
Inclusivity is at the very core of what we do and that also involves creating an environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves and live their lives as they see fit without causing harm to others.
We look forward to seeing everyone during the summer.
I can sympathize with the balancing act here. Court is an all-time champion and winning the Grand Slam an amazing athletic achievement, so to ignore it would be rewriting history. And the comments about inclusiveness are important.
But I agree with people like Billie Jean King who wants Court’s name removed from the arena. Given Court’s strident views on LGBTQ issues, giving her that honor cheapens the Australian Open’s commitment to inclusivity.