Tennis trailblazer Billie Jean King has used the occasion of being named Australian Open woman of the year to call for the renaming of Margaret Court Arena.
King is being feted at Melbourne Park this month – on the 50th anniversary of her first Australian title – for her contribution to the sport and her pioneering support for women’s rights and social justice.
The 74-year-old’s advocacy extended to naming the show court after her friend Margaret Court, but King said she could no longer support the honour.
“I was a proponent of her’s, trying to get her to the best possible court,” King said.
“She won 64 grand slams … more than everybody else.
“When Rocket, Rod Laver, got given the arena, I said ‘what are you going to do for Margaret?'”
Billie Jean King. (AAP)
King said Court’s “derogatory” attacks on sexually diverse people were the last straw.
“I think it’s its really important, if you’re going to have your name on anything, that you’re hospitable, inclusive, you’re opening arms to everyone that comes to a public facility,” she said.
“I was fine until lately she said so many derogatory things about my community, I’m a gay woman; about the LGBTIQ community.
“That really went deep in my heart and soul.
“I don’t think she should have her name (on it) any more.”
King ended her career with 12 major singles titles.
In 2006, the US Open facility was rebadged as the ‘USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre’ in her honour.
She said a change of the facility might have already occurred if Court had targeted other groups.
“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,” she said.
“Maybe it’s our community, the LGBTIQ community (why) people might feel differently.”
Court, a fundamentalist Christian, has targeted same-sex parents – including Casey Dellacqua – and has argued for conversion therapy for gay people.
King said she would refuse to play on the arena if she was appearing at this year’s tournament.
She foreshadowed player boycotts of the court, but wouldn’t counsel anyone to do so.
Australian ace Sam Stosur suggested there was little locker room chatter about the divisive issue.
“I’ll play on whatever court I’m scheduled on,” she said.
“I wouldn’t say too many players have spent time thinking about it.”
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Tennis Australia didn’t have a view on the renaming of the arena.
“They’re not the views of our organisation … they’re not the views of our sport. We’re inclusive, diverse and equal,” he said.
The arena is managed by the Melbourne and Olympics Parks Trust under the purview of the Victorian Government.