Martina Navratilova calls tennis great Margaret Court a racist and homophobe in arena battle

Some players raise possibility of boycotting the Australian Open in January

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 4:27am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 June, 2017, 4:30am

Martina Navratilova has accused Margaret Court of being “a racist and a homophobe” after the former Australian tennis champion said tennis was “full of lesbians” and transgender children were the work of “the devil”.

Navratilova, who married her partner Julia Lemigova in 2014, has led calls for the Margaret Court Arena at the Australian Open to be renamed following the 74 year-old’s latest controversial comments.

In a open letter to the arena , the 18-time grand slam singles title-holder wrote that sporting venues should be named after athletes not just for their achievements on the court, but “also for who they are as human beings”.

“It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe,” writes Navratilova. “Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere.”

Navratilova’s call for the arena to be renamed is supported by openly gay Dutch player Richel Hogenkamp, while world number one Andy Murray hinted this week that players could organise a boycott of the Australian Open in January if the issue was not resolved by then.

Asked if he would support a boycott, Murray said : “It’d be more beneficial to do something before the tournament. If the players come to an agreement - if they think the name should be changed or whatever - that should be decided before the event starts, but I would imagine a lot of the players would be pretty offended by that.”

More than 5,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the stadium to be renamed.

Court, who won a record 24 singles championships at grand slam tournaments and is now an ultra-conservative church minister in Perth, recently said she would not fly on Qantas “where possible” in protest at its support of same-sex marriage .

“It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe”
Martina Navratilova

This week she told Vision Christian Radio station that an Australian programme tackling homophobic bullying in schools was the work of a “gay lobby” that was trying to “get [into] the minds of children”.

Court told the radio station: “Tennis is full of lesbians because even when I was playing there was only a couple there, but those couple that led took young ones into parties and things. And you know, what you get at the top is often what you’ll get right through that sport.”

She said children who experienced gender dysphoria and felt they may be transgender were under the influence of the devil: “You can think, ‘Oh, I’m a boy’, and it will affect your emotions and feelings and everything else. That’s all the devil. That’s what Hitler did and that’s what communism did, got the minds of the children.”

In response, Navratilova wrote: “And now, linking LGBT to Nazis, communists, the devil? This is not OK. This is in fact sick and it is dangerous. Kids will suffer more because of this continuous bashing and stigmatising of our LGBT community.”

She also accused Court of making “unabashed racist statements” in the 1970s about apartheid, the former policy of racial segregation and political and economic discrimination in South Africa.

“I had long ago forgiven Court for her headline-grabbing comments in 1990 when she said I was a bad role model because I was a lesbian,” writes Navratilova. “What I did not know about until now were the unabashed racist statements she made in the ‘70s about apartheid in South Africa. Saying that South Africa dealt with the “situation” (meaning people of colour) much better than anywhere else in the world, particularly the US: what exactly did she mean by that?”

Navratilova concluded the letter by suggesting the venue’s name should be changed to the Evonne Goolagong Arena, after another Australian former world No 1 tennis player.

“[That] has a great ring to it. Now there is a person we can all celebrate. On every level.”

Australian player Casey Dellacqua , who has two children with her partner Amanda Judd, has said she was “really hurt” by Court’s comments on homosexuality. Former US Open champion, Sam Stosur, initially labelled Court’s outburst crazy and raised the prospect of a boycott , but she is understood to have softened her stance since.

Tennis Australia has not replied to requests for comment on Court’s new statements. It said last week that Court’s views “are her own” .

Show Court One, one of the biggest stadiums at the Australian Open, was renamed Margaret Court Arena in 2003 in honour of the player, who dominated women’s tennis in the 1960s.

Court has dismissed the calls for the arena to be renamed as “bullying”. “It’s their way of bullying now because I think Australia is still Judeo-Christian,” she said.

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, last week defended Court over her comments about Qantas and said the stadium should not be renamed.

“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 in an interview. “She’s one of the greatest greats of tennis and that’s why the arena is named after her.”

This is not the first time Court has been criticised for her views on homosexuality. Just before the 2012 Australian Open, she accused gay people of indulging in, “abominable sexual practises”. Same-sex marriages, she said, were, “unhealthy, unnatural unions”.

She told an Australian newspaper at the time: “I’ve nothing against homosexual people. I help them to overcome. We have people [at her Victory Life Centre in Perth, Western Australia, where she was the founding pastor in the 1990s] who have been homosexual who are now married.”

British player Laura Robson, then 17, joined in a protest when she wore a rainbow-coloured headband on to Margaret Court Arena , and said later: “I wore it because I believe in equal rights for everyone.”