Former US women’s champion Billie Jean King
Tennis legend Billie Jean King has said she would refuse to play at a Melbourne stadium named after retired Australian tennis pro Margaret Court.
The comments come amid a wider campaign to change the name of the Margaret Court Arena “over the former player’s comments surrounding homosexuality and plan to boycott Qantas for its same-sex marriage stance”, says the ABC.
King and Court were contemporaries on the court in the 1960s and 1970s, but their paths diverged after retirement.
After hiding her sexuality for more than a decade, King came out as a lesbian in 1981 and has since become a vocal advocate for gay rights, while Court now runs a ministry which preaches against homosexuality.
King said she had been able to set aside her differences with Court “until lately, when she said so many derogatory things about my community”.
During the run-up to the Australian plebiscite on same-sex marriage – Court campaigned against the initiative. Among a string of controversial comments, she described tennis as “full of lesbians” who preyed on other women and ascribed the existence of transgender children to “the devil”.
“I personally don’t think she should have her name [on the stadium] any more,” King said, adding that the hurtful remarks “went deep in my heart and soul”.
“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,” the 74-year-old said. “If I were playing today, I would not play on it.”
Last year, gay tennis legend Martina Navratilova penned an open letter calling for the arena to be renamed, suggesting Aboriginal Australian champion Evonne Googlagong as a more worthy recipient of the honour.
Court has said she will not attend next week’s Australian Open in protest at the government’s vote to legalise same-sex marriage.
King, on the other hand, is to attend the Melbourne Grand Slam for the first time eight years, says Sky Sports News. Governing body Tennis Australia has named King Australian Open Woman of the Year, 50 years after her only Australian Open victory among 39 Grand Slam titles.