Australia

Tennis and politics clash on Australian Open centre court

Margaret Court arena at the 2017 Australian Open Image copyright Getty Images

There's no question that Margaret Court is one of the greatest players in tennis history. But what is being questioned are her comments against the country's LGBT community.

They have triggered a debate on whether she still deserves to have her name adorning the country's most famous tennis arena.

Court has won more Grand Slam tournaments than any other player. But her career post-tennis has seen her become a Christian minister and one of a particularly conservative brand.

What is it all about?

Australia's Margaret Court is the world's most successful female tennis star. And so it seems only appropriate that the country's most famous tennis arena is named after her.

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Image caption Margaret Court won 11 Australian Open singles titles

But the now 74-year-old is embroiled in controversy. She's a Christian pastor, vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage.

The row started when she wrote an open letter to Qantas last month, criticising the airline for its support of same-sex marriage.

She said she would boycott Qantas and in subsequent interviews on the issue has added more fuel to the fire with statements suggesting that transgender children were the work of "the devil" and that tennis was "full of lesbians".

This has led to growing calls the court should be renamed.

Most notably, fellow former tennis legends Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, who are both gay, have criticised Court and called for the arena to be renamed.

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Image caption Navratilova was among the first players to call for a new name for the Margaret Court Arena

"Her vitriol is not just an opinion," Navratilova wrote in an open letter.

"She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too)."

Is it hate speech?

Some commentators have accused Court of spreading hate speech.

Navratilova in her letter wrote that the former champion was "demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere".

Here's what's probably the most controversial quote by Court, claiming there was an LGBT agenda to get into the minds of children.

"That's what Hitler did. That's what communism did. There's a whole plot in our nation and in the nations of the world to get in the minds of the children," she said on Christian talk radio.

Strong words, but from a legal perspective, things are not that easy.

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The legal framework focuses on anti-discrimination provisions and protections against inciting violence, says Dr Mark Williams, lawyer and adjunct professor at the School of Art at RMIT University Melbourne.

A mere statement on a group of a certain sexual orientation is not in itself a legal matter, he explains.

For a statement to become relevant from a legal perspective, it would have to include a call to action to either discriminate against a certain group or it would have to be a statement seen as inciting violence.

Who says what on the issue?

Australia's official tennis body says there's no need to rename the court.

The Australian Open venue was named after the 11-time winner in 2003, and Tennis Australia has so far maintained that Court's views are her own and the name will not be changed.

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Image caption Andy Murray urged the matter to be resolved soon

The prime minister's take? Malcolm Turnbull is also for keeping things as they are.

"Whatever people may think about Margaret Court's views about gay marriage… she is one of the all-time greats and the Margaret Court Arena celebrates Margaret Court the tennis player," he told 3AW radio.

"She's one of the greatest greats of tennis and that's why the arena is named after her."

Current men's number one Andy Murray has also weighed in on the topic. Murray left no doubt he disagrees with Court's views.

"I don't see why anyone has a problem with two people who love each other getting married," he said during the French Open. "It's not anyone else's business."

He's been more coy though about whether or not to rename the court, simply saying the matter has to be resolved soon - before the Australian Open in January 2018.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "That's all the devil," Court said about transgender children

The latest voice to come out on issues is fellow tennis legend John McEnroe who in a video message over the weekend strongly criticised Court for her views.

He then suggested tongue in cheek the name should be kept and "when same-sex marriage finally becomes legal in Australia, I will personally call my good friend Elton John to host the biggest same-sex mass wedding ceremony ever seen - in the Margaret Court Arena".

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