Maybe Margaret Court Doesn't Deserve To Be Honoured
“If you’ve got nothing nice to say, don’t say it at all.”
I assume we’ve all heard that one before?
Well, it appears Margaret Court has not. But we shouldn’t be surprised -- it seems she hasn’t been listening to the majority of Australia either.
Just when you thought you’d heard the end of the Grand Slam champ-turned religious zealot, Court has served the tennis world another backhand.
As the summer of tennis in Australia gets underway, the 77-year-old has all but demanded Tennis Australia celebrate -- actually, “honour” was how she put it -- her achievements on the 50th anniversary of her grand slam.
Honour in the same way Rod Laver’s 1969 Grand Slam achievements were honoured at the Australian Open earlier this year. And she’s even given the governing body an ultimatum, saying she doesn't want to return to Olympic Park without an official invite, just to hammer her point home.
Without any knowledge of Court’s post-tennis life, one would consider this a reasonable request given she’s arguably the greatest tennis player Australia has ever produced. Even Serena Williams is still chasing her record of 24 grand slams (64 if you include doubles).
But, unlike most people who conquer their chosen sports, who in their less eventful civilian lives go on to have stadiums named after them, Court’s legacy is tainted. Instead of stepping back and revelling in her on-court feats, she’s gone out of her way to remain the headline act off the court as well.
Court was raised as a Roman Catholic but, after retiring in 1977, her devotion to the bible strengthened. She gained a theological qualification and was ordained as a Pentecostal Minister before founding her own ministry and church in Perth.
In her role as minister, she’s been quite honest about her stance against LBGTI rights. In her role as a sporting great, she’s often called upon to voice her opinion. The combination of the two, in modern Australia, has been a formula for mayhem.
Her outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage has even triggered calls for her name to be stripped from Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park (more on this later).
Court argues that her views on gay marriage shouldn’t be linked to her tennis legacy and says she has nothing against the LGBTI community, but that they should not be allowed to marry.
But either way, these values don’t align with Tennis Australia’s endeavour to design an inclusive and diverse environment, which poses a sticky situation for the organisation in terms of how it honours the greatest tennis player the nation has ever produced.
Tennis Australia says it is “in the process of working through” how Court’s milestone should be recognised.
And it should be exactly that: “recognised”, but perhaps not “honoured”.
Today’s Australia, while largely accepting of different cultures and religions, seems to have a problem with people openly practising their different cultures and religions.
And therein lies the problem.
Court's 50th anniversary raises the question of how we as a nation handle people in sport whose views don’t represent those of the wider nation. We’ve seen it with Israel Folau, but that was pretty clear-cut, albeit a matter that's still before the courts.
Folau was an active player who Rugby Australia claim had crossed rugby’s code of conduct. Some question whether this ‘cancel culture’ is the right way to go, but the dispute concerned whether he breached a clearly outlined contract. There was no turning back.
Folau then commenced legal proceedings against Rugby Australia claiming the termination of his contract was unlawful.
With Court, it’s such a grey area. Her greatness cannot be erased, so how should we honour her, if at all? And if we’re not honouring her, how does Tennis Australia make a stand against her beliefs? Remember, we’re also dealing with a woman who (in the 70s) praised apartheid-era South Africa.
First, we need to address Margaret Court Arena. It’s not exactly sending a great message to our LGBTI community or players when a place that should be welcoming and inclusive to all is named after someone who’s clearly not comfortable with the word “inclusion” and can’t bear to see her fellow members of the tennis community raise a child without a father.
Renaming it only gives Court more airtime, but it’s a short-term blow for long-term salvation. The Aussie Open is traditionally known as the “Happy Slam”, do we really want to carry weight and, possibly, earn the tag of the “Homophobic Slam?”
After all, she’s done this to herself. She could have, you know, respected the choices of other people and kept her thoughts to herself.
Tennis Australia, like Rugby Australia, now has a responsibility of ensuring it has clear policies and guidelines in place that prevent players past and present from sharing messages of hate.
It’ll then be a teething process. For the Australian tennis-loving public to trust Court again and eventually “honour” her, there needs to be no more letters and no more public comments.
Because, if you haven’t got something nice to say... well, you get the message.
Being a high-profile, highly-celebrated, sportsperson is to be looked up to and be a mentor, whether you like it or not. With that comes a high level of responsibility to help lead the way.
To date, Court has done nothing of the sort.
Our response to this woman will say a lot about the place of religion in modern Australian society and will speak volumes about her place in the modern game. It’s no wonder tennis Australia is taking its time to deliberate her request.