It is sad that the great Margaret Court is, once again, amid a storm of controversy after having been awarded Australia’s greatest honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, on the country’s national day on Tuesday.
Always remember I’m a minister of the gospel and have been for the last 30 years, I always say what the Bible says. I love people, people come in from all backgrounds, I’m there to help, I’m not there to put people down in that way but I’ll always say what the Bible says. I’ve been bullied a lot in the last few years, and I don’t mind. That’s alright. But if I say anything, then [they say] I’m a bigot and I’m everything else, and I don’t like that.” Margaret Court
The decision to give the award was criticised by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews last week, who said her vocal opposition to same-sex marriage and support of gay conversion therapy should exclude her from receiving the honour.
Most unfortunately, respected broadcaster Kerry O’Brien rejected his Australia Day gong in protest at the ‘insensitive’ decision to honour Court, while LGBTQ advocate Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo said she would hand back the medal she received in 2016.
The 78-year-old’s accomplishments on the tennis court are undeniable, having won 24 Grand Slam singles titles, which remains a record to this day, but her outspoken views on same-sex marriage, homosexuality and transgender athletes are considered to be out of step in the modern world of equality and, as a result, have drawn angry criticism from many.
It has distanced her from the sport she professes to love, and she was quick to point out in a radio interview on 3AW on Tuesday that she has not been invited to attend the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park, where one of the show courts is named after her.
“I’m not coming to the Australian Open. No, I wasn’t invited,” Court told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. “With coronavirus, we’ve been so busy with our community work. I haven’t even thought about it.”
Her latest award has further stoked the fire, but Court does not regret accepting the honour.
“No, because I loved representing my nation,” Court said. “When I got the AO [Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007] it was for my community reach area. We put out 75 tonnes of food a week. And this was for my tennis, and I think it was a long-time coming.
“I wasn’t one who looked for it. I didn’t know I was getting it. I was very honoured when I was told I was.
“There wasn’t a lot of fuss about it, but there has been a lot of other people who have made a lot of fuss about it.”
Court, who is now a church pastor and one of only five players to win all four Majors in the same year, refused to be drawn on Andrews’ stance, while claiming her previous comments had been misrepresented by the media.
“I don’t hate anybody, I love people and I love gay people and transgender people. We get them into our community services, we never turn anybody away,” she said.
“I can be bullied, I’ve been bullied a lot in the last few years and I don’t mind, that’s all right.
“But if I say anything, then I’m a bigot and I’m everything else and I don’t like that and I think the press has caused a lot of that.”
She claims has been ‘used’ as a high-profile promoter of her so-called ‘traditional values’ and reiterated her views that being gay was a choice, and could be cured, but she felt some of her views had been misconstrued.
Mitchell concluded the interview by saying the 78-year-old ‘may have dug herself into a deeper hole’ after reiterating her views surrounding marriage equality and homosexuality.
“It is a choice,” she said. “There were some things that were said on radio that claimed I said transgender children are the devil. I never said that.
“Everything we have in life is a choice. That’s the freedom God gave us. That’s their choice. I don’t hate them for their choice.
“I was used as a high profile person to get some opinions and views across – but I have nothing against homosexual people or transgender people.
“I’ve always said what the bible says. And I don’t hate anybody. I love people. And I love gay people and I love transgender people.”
She also repeated her declaration that she continues to pray for Andrews, despite their public war of words.
Court enraged fellow tennis greats including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova when she announced a boycott of national airline Qantas for its CEO’s support of same-sex marriage, which Australia introduced in 2017, while there have been repeated calls for Tennis Australia to rename the Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park.
Controversy raged when Court accepted Tennis Australia’s invitation last year to AO20 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of her 1970 Grand Slam sweep.
“Over the years, I’ve taken a lot, and I think I’ve been bullied in one way, and I think, you know, it’s time to stop,” Court said. “A lot of things were said, which I never really said, which I think was the sad part.
“Always remember I’m a minister of the gospel and have been for the last 30 years, I always say what the Bible says.
“I love people, people come in from all backgrounds, I’m there to help, I’m not there to put people down in that way but I’ll always say what the Bible says.
“I’ve been bullied a lot in the last few years, and I don’t mind. That’s alright. But if I say anything, then [they say] I’m a bigot and I’m everything else, and I don’t like that.”