Margaret Court’s Grand Slam anniversary presentation has kicked off a fresh debate as two tennis greats teed off on the controversial 24-time major winner.
Court, 77, the all-time record-holder for Grand Slam titles, and one of only five players to win all four majors in the same year, received a replica Australian Open women's trophy in a brief ceremony from Rod Laver on Monday night.
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Tennis Australia, which has consistently stated its opposition to Court’s views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage among other issues, denied the tennis great an opportunity to speak to the crowd during the presentation, however.
Instead, a video message from the 24-time major winner was beamed to fans inside Rod Laver Arena.
"With me, what you see is what you get," she said during the video tribute that was played at the centre court, next door to Melbourne Park's 7,500-seat Margaret Court Arena.
The decision not to allow Court a platform to speak, perhaps in light of her controversial views, proved divisive for viewers, with many critics pointing to the importance of free speech.
Hell yes. If she spoke she would alienate a large portion of Tennis Australia’s patrons. Her controversial views are discriminatory and TA promotes inclusion at its core. Good on you TA!— KTT (@KTT72) January 27, 2020
If Margaret Court has the right to say what she wants, why shouldn’t organisers have the right to deny her the opportunity to speak. It’s called cause and effect.— Adam Herdel (@Adsy01) January 27, 2020
Let her speak...— Konrad Jurewicz (@LFC_Redskins) January 27, 2020
Not right but that’s was obviously the deal they did - so carry on!— Peter Taliangis (@PeterTaliangis) January 27, 2020
Yes. She has said more than enough already.— Carzie (@Carzie5) January 27, 2020
Margaret Court made her comments as a preacher in her church, not in a sporting arena. I’m sure if she had been allowed to speak it would have been about her tennis careerBut it is ok for McEnroe to voice his rude opinion and views about her. Double standards @AustralianOpen— LKS🇦🇺 (@nevrtearusapart) January 27, 2020
Why commemorate her win if she’s not allowed to talk? Where is your freedom of speech now. If she doesn’t believe in homosexuality, as with most of the country, then isn’t she allowed to have her own opinion. I think it’s about time that someone has the balls to out against it.— michael (@gomergay) January 27, 2020
However, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe lined up to criticise Court's "homophobic" views, insisting she had lost the right to command respect from fans because her religious ideals were "actually hurting people".
"There's only one thing longer than the list of Margaret Court's list of achievements: it's her list of offensive and homophobic statements," McEnroe said in a video for Eurosport.
"Margaret Court is actually a ventriloquist, using the Bible as a dummy to say whatever she wants," added the seven-time Grand Slam winner.
WTA founder Billie Jean King is one senior figure to call for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed, and Navratilova is also a frequent critic.
"It's just unfortunate because I think what Margaret Court doesn't realise is how many people she hurts with her rhetoric," Navratilova told media on Monday.
"She can believe whatever she wants but she's actually hurting people, and that's not okay."
In retirement, Court, now a church pastor and based in Perth, Western Australia, has often attracted controversy over her views on race and homosexuality.
The Australian once praised South Africa's apartheid system, said "tennis is full of lesbians" and described transgender children as "the work of the devil".
When Tennis Australia agreed to mark the Grand Slam anniversary, the governing body stressed it "does not agree with Court's personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years".
Court last week said she was being "persecuted" for her beliefs and that many people had voiced support.
"I teach what the Bible says about things and you get persecuted for it," she told ABC radio.
"But I still believe all that should not come in to 50 years ago, what I did in tennis for my nation."
Melbourne Park is hosting the Glam Slam, an LGBTQI+ tennis tournament, this week, and this year unveiled gender-neutral toilets at Rod Laver Arena, the centre court.
McEnroe also added that he hoped Serena Williams, who has 23 Grand Slam titles, would soon eclipse Court's record of 24.
"Serena, do me a favour, get two more Grand Slams this year and get to 25 so we can leave Margaret Court and her offensive views in the past, where they both belong," he said.