Melbourne: Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe lined up to criticise Margaret Court’s “homophobic” views on Monday as the Australian Open prepared to mark 50 years since the controversial tennis great’s calendar-year Grand Slam.
Navratilova said the devout Christian’s deeply conservative views were “actually hurting people”, while McEnroe described Court as a “crazy aunt”, adding that marking her 1970 Grand Slam was a “nightmare” for governing body Tennis Australia.
“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 no-holds-barred 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.
Court will be honoured with a ceremony at the Australian Open venue Melbourne Park — where the second-biggest stadium bears her name — on Monday.
She won 24 Grand Slam titles, a record for both men and women, and is one of only five players to clean-sweep all four Majors in the same year.
But Court, now a church pastor and based in Perth, Western Australia, has long 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”.
Tennis Australia has agreed to mark the anniversary but stressed it “does not agree with Court’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years”.
WTA founder Billie Jean King is one senior figure to call for Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena to be renamed, and fellow American legend 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.” 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 will host the Glam Slam, an LGBTQI+ tennis tournament, this week, and this year unveiled gender-neutral toilets at Rod Laver Arena, the centre court.
McEnroe said 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.
Australia’s Jelena Dokic, who reached four Grand Slam quarter-finals and the 2000 Wimbledon semis, said Court’s views were “extremely hurtful”.
“She’s won 24 Grand Slam titles so that’s pretty incredible,” Dokic told AFP.
“But on the other hand, the things that she has done off the court and said are extremely hurtful and unacceptable and something that I completely disagree with.”