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Australian Open celebrates inaugural Pride Day with top players welcoming the LGBTQ community

As the Australian Open celebrates the LGBTQ community, questions still haunt Margaret Court Arena.

2022 Australian Open: Day 8
Drag queens and performers celebrate Pride Day at the 2022 Australian Open.
Photo by James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Sunday night saw Rod Laver Arena lit up in rainbow colors, closing out an eventful first-ever Pride Day at the Australian Open.

In addition to the upcoming Glam Slam from January 28-30, the celebrations are Tennis Australia’s attempt to reach out and welcome its LGBTQ+ fans to the game.

“I’m delighted we can all come together as a community to celebrate together on this special day, which I have no doubt will become a highly anticipated part of the AO every year,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said in a statement.

While tennis has long been a space for trailblazing LGBTQ+ representation on the women’s tour — from Billie Jean King to hometown Australian hero Sam Stosur — on the ATP tour there are still no out gay professional men. Players on the men’s side are often prompted to speak on this disparity, and they have responded without exception that the tour would be welcoming to any gay player.

Most recently, Liam Broady of the UK wore rainbow laces to send his support in the run up to Pride Day.

Activities on Pride Day itself included a special breakfast event, pre-match show tunes, an educational hub, glam stations for makeovers, as well as various Pride-themed entertainment parading across the grounds, including musicians, roller derby, and drag queens such as Courtney Act of Rupaul’s Drag Race fame.

Australian footballer Josh Cavallo also made a special guest appearance on the AO practice courts with Sam Groth in a short promotional video on Sunday.

“Tennis was my first sport before football, and I always loved it and had a massive passion for it, so it’s really honorable to be here at the Australian Open to celebrate it,” Cavallo says in the video.

“From the day I pressed the post button on my social media, I’ve had zero regret and I can just be happy,” he says about his coming post. “And generally, I have the most happiness out of everyone. It’s something that I’ve done on purpose, and for me to start a new beginning, open a new chapter in my book that I’ve been trying to do for many years now.”

AO also released a star-studded video of tennis player allies voicing their support for Pride, featuring Stefanos Tsitsipas, Ash Barty, Madison Keys, Matteo Berrettini, Gael Monfils, Simona Halep, Alex de Minaur and Alizé Cornet.

On the court, doubles player Thanasi Kokkinakis of Greece appeared to borrow from the closet of Fabio Fognini, sporting rainbow sweatbands on his wrists to show his support of the LGBTQ+ community in advance of Pride Day.

One topic noticeably absent from Tennis Australia’s Pride Day docket was the ongoing objection from a number of tennis fans and players to the event’s embrace of the woman behind the eponymous Margaret Court Arena. Any of the tournament’s official #AOPride posts will have no dearth of tennis fans pointing out the irony of purporting to create a safe space for LGBTQ+ tournament-goers at an arena named after possibly the most vocally anti-LGBTQ+ person in the sport today.

Court, the Australian tennis champion from decades ago, has been public about her homophobic and transphobic views for many years. Despite this she has been a fixture of the AO.

While the naming of the arena has been a singular hot-button issue, it’s truly endemic to the tournament how prominently Court still features in their branding, such as the 2020 pre-match awarding of a replica trophy to recognize an anniversary of Court’s calendar grand slam.

Talking out of both sides of their mouth is not likely to satisfy any part of the sport’s fan base. As the AO also uses this year to host its inaugural First Nations Day, and put a real focus on the long-marginalized Indigenous contribution to the sport, it must also reckon with its own inconvenient history of choosing to capitalize on the whitewashing of Margaret Court’s homophobic legacy.