Tennis Australia has now come to a position where it believes it can celebrate Court’s 1970 grand slam achievement appropriately.
“To mark this historic occasion, Margaret Court, along with her family and friends, has been invited to Australian Open 2020 as a special guest, and to participate in a significant program of events throughout the tournament,” Tennis Australia said.
“Tennis Australia respects Margaret’s unmatched tennis career and welcomes her to the Australian Open, particularly in this milestone anniversary year.
“As often stated, Tennis Australia does not agree with Margaret’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years. They do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.
“Our sport welcomes everyone, no matter what gender, ability, race, religion or sexuality, and we will continue to actively promote inclusion initiatives widely at all levels of the sport.”
Court confirmed she would attend the Open in January.
“I’m looking forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of winning the Grand Slam with my family and friends at the Australian Open,” Court said in the statement.
“This is an incredible milestone for me, and I can’t quite believe how quickly the time has gone. It’s always wonderful to catch up with my fellow legends and I’m grateful to Tennis Australia.
“Tennis is a wonderful sport and I’m proud to be part of the history of our great game.”
However, Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said Tennis Australia needed to think about the message it was sending out by inviting Court.
“Margaret Court has not apologised for comments where she likened gay people to Hitler and suggested that trans young people were the work of the devil,” she said.
“When Court uses her public platform gained through her tennis prowess to insult the LGBTIQ community, it shows that we can’t separate Court the athlete from her harmful views.
“Tennis Australia needs to consider the message this sends to LGBTIQ tennis supporters, particularly younger fans.”
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convener Dale Park said the way Court had repeatedly and continuously spoken about LGBTIQ people was offensive and discriminatory.
“She’s also had issues in the past where she had called apartheid a good thing, and these values need to also be taken in to account when we are choosing who we celebrate,” he said.
“I think, as a former champion it would be appropriate that she would be invited, but to then turn on a special show and honour her speaks beyond just a sporting achievement but also about her values and her place within the community.’
However Mr Park said he appreciated that Tennis Australia was in a difficult position, and that it was encouraging to hear the sports governing body’s positive remarks towards the LGBTIQ community.
“So, I think if they are trying to acknowledge Mrs Court’s remarkable achievements, at the same time they should be doing something as equally visible to the LGBTIQ community during the Australian Open to show that it is a welcoming and inclusive place.”
Mr Park said the Australian Open was “hugely supported” by the LGBTIQ community, which would continue to attend and fly the rainbow flag.
“Having attended Margaret Court Arena for the last couple of years, it is very evident that the community still go and do their own form of protest by wearing rainbow-coloured outfits and rainbow flags, so we will not let this stop us attending a sporting event or turning ourselves away from it.”
While there had been recent conjecture as to how Tennis Australia would mark Court’s anniversary, a production team was flown to Perth in June to interview the tennis great for a mini-documentary that will be released during the Open.
“During filming, Margaret shared precious memories of her time on the tour, and intimate reflections on her unmatched achievements. Her on-court prowess, reputation for being supremely fit and training in a fashion way ahead of her time,” Tennis Australia said.
Aside from the controversy about recognising Court’s anniversary, there have also been numerous calls for Margaret Court Arena – named after the tennis great in 2003 – to be renamed.
Two of women’s tennis greatest players – Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova – have both supported this. King, on the eve of last year’s Australian Open, said that if she was playing tennis on the tour today, she would refuse to play on the arena.
Tennis Australia sent a clear message to Court in publishing the open letter to accompany the announcement that she had accepted the offer to attend the Open.
“As we have often communicated to Margaret, we respect that everyone has a right to an opinion – and a right to express it. Equally, we all share an obligation that while living our lives freely, we do not harm others, and we understand that there are consequences to our words,” the letter read.
“Publicly stated views of intolerance and demeaning language about others can have enormous impact, and are particularly hurtful and harmful to those who believe they are targeted.
“We believe any public figure has a big responsibility to ensure their views are expressed in a way that demonstrates respect and tolerance, and does not cause harm to, or degrade others.
“As a sport, tennis is unwavering in playing our part to ensure an inclusive society. We cannot condone views that fracture our incredible tennis community, nor indeed, the wider community.”
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age
Goya Dmytryshchak is a reporter for The Age.