American tennis great Billie Jean King has joined calls for Margaret Court’s name to be stripped from the arena at Melbourne Park due to the Australian champion’s vocal campaign against homosexuality.
There has been a campaign to change the name of Margaret Court Arena over the former player’s comments surrounding homosexuality and plan to boycott Qantas for its same-sex marriage stance.
The former 64-time major winner, who is now a pastor at Victory Life Church in Perth, also once wrote a letter to the West Australian to express sadness that Casey Dellacqua’s newborn child would be “deprived of his father”.
King said she had once supported Court’s name adorning one of the stadiums, after Rod Laver was honoured with an arena.
However, she said comments from her friend last year blaming the devil for people being transgender “put her over the edge”.
“I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community — I’m a gay woman … [and] I personally don’t think she should have her name anymore,” she said.
“I think if you were talking about Indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can’t imagine the public would want to have her name on something.
“Maybe because it’s the LGBTI community people might feel differently, but we’re all God’s children, so I probably don’t think it’s appropriate to have her name.”
King has returned to Melbourne for the first time in eight years, and has been named by Tennis Australia as the Australian Open woman of the year on the 50th anniversary of her first title in Australia.
She has a tennis centre named after her in New York City and said the honour came with great responsibility.
“I think it’s really important if you’re going to have your name on anything, that you’re hospitable, you’re inclusive, you’re open arms to everyone that comes, it’s a public facility,” she said.
“Every time I see my name up there I can hardly breathe because of the responsibility that goes with it.
“I think that if I’m going to have my name on anything … I would welcome Margaret, I would welcome Pentecostal, I would welcome whatever, whether I agreed with them or not, is not important.”
But she said while she personally supported a change, the decision was ultimately up to the people of Australia and would not be easy.
King said she would refuse to play on the arena if she was appearing at this year’s tournament — but she would not counsel others to do so.
Instead, she encouraged players to think about the issue and “look inside their heart” before making a decision.
Last year, fellow tennis star Martina Navratilova wrote an open letter in Fairfax Media calling for the arena to be renamed to remove all traces of the Australian champion.
“I think the Evonne Goolagong Arena has a great ring to it,” Navratilova wrote.
“Now there is a person we can all celebrate. On every level.”
After Navratilova’s letter, Tennis Australia (TA) released a statement saying Court was unmatched as a player, but her personal views were out of line with TA’s “values of equality, inclusion and diversity”.
King said it took her until she was 51 to feel comfortable in her own skin and deal with the “shame” of her sexuality.
She said she wished Court was at the Australian Open this year so they could have an open discussion about the issue.