June Shanahan, Margaret Court’s sister, told Sydney radio station 2GB on Saturday that she was ‘disgusted’ at remarks made by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews condemning the awarding of the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) to the legendary player.
It’s not as bad as what some people have made it out to be. She’s a good woman and she helps a lot of people. June Shanahan
She defended the decision to recognise Court with Australia’s highest honour for the charity work she has undertaken over the years as well as her tennis achievements.
“She does Australia proud with her tennis and she worked hard to get where she got to,” Mrs Shanahan said, adding that Court’s charity work included providing food to the needy through her Pentecostal church in Perth, where she has been a pastor for 30 years.
“These people that criticise her, especially the Premier of Victoria … I was disgusted with what he said.
“If he went over there to see what she did, he’d be regretting now what he said. It’s a credit to her, really, and there’s tonnes of food to go out to her church every day.”
Court, who will be made an AC on Tuesday for her playing success and mentoring of young sportspeople, has been widely criticised for her prejudice towards the LGBTQI community and opposition to same-sex marriage.
She has already received an MBE, in 1967, and was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2007.
After the decision to award Court was leaked on social media on Friday, Mr Andrews said her views were out of step with the Australian public, which saw the LGBTQI community as equals.
In a tweet later on Friday, Mr Andrews called her views disgraceful and bigoted: “Grand Slam wins don’t give you some right to spew hatred and create division. Nothing does,” he wrote.
Court’s sister told the Sydney radio station that the criticism of her sister was unfair.
Mrs Shanahan, a former radio producer, said people shouldn’t believe what they read about her sister in the newspapers and that some people were out to get her.
“It’s not as bad as what some people have made it out to be,” she said. “She’s a good woman and she helps a lot of people.”
Court was the first woman to achieve the singles Grand Slam in the open era, winning all four major tournaments in a calendar year in 1970, and her record of 24 major singles titles still stands.
The 78-year-old, however, has drawn condemnation in recent years for her religious views, including claims that homosexuality was a choice and connected to ‘the devil’, and for her criticism of transgender athletes.
In an interview on a Christian radio station in 2017, Court said women’s tennis was ‘full of lesbians’ and compared gay activism to policies of Nazi Germany.
Labor Health spokesman Chris Bowen weighed into the Australian Day honours debate on Saturday morning, and said a thorough explanation of the reasons for the decision should be given.
“I think we would welcome seeing the justification for her promotion in the Order of Australia given that her tennis achievements have already been recognised,” he said, adding that he was a strong supporter of the freedom of religion and had deep respect for people’s individual religious beliefs.
“But I would invite Mrs Court to reflect on the fact that her views, and the way she has expressed them, have not always been respectful to other Australians, have caused great hurt and anguish for many Australians.
“In my very strong view, [they] have not reflected mutual respect and respect for people’s beliefs and the respect for people’s sexuality that is an important part of being a modern Australian.”
Court told Nine News people should be able to separate her religious beliefs from her sporting achievements.
“Over the years I’ve had so much criticism that it doesn’t really affect me. I call them blessed because I pray for them and I pray for my nation,” she said.
“I run a church and I teach what The Bible says and that’s my beliefs and I stand by that.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday the honours system was a ‘completely independent process’ and that he couldn’t comment further.
The website of the Governor-General says: “individuals are appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) for eminent achievement and merit of the highest degree in service to Australia or to humanity at large.”
Governor-General David Hurley told The Age and The Herald that the Order of Australia honours system had been biased against women, historically, and had not recognised enough Indigenous Australians.
Mr Bowen said he was pleased to read the comments: “I think he’s right. The Order of Australia needs to be for all Australians and, frankly, far too often it hasn’t been. It’s not just about gender disparity.
“As a western Sydney MP, I scour the list every time there is an announcement for Australia Day, in particular, for local heroes that can be celebrated in the Order of Australia.
“I have to tell you often it’s slim pickings.“
Court has labelled the backlash against her as ‘bullying’ following the heavy criticism over the decision to award her the highest Australia Day honour, adding she had had enough of the fury, declaring she is ‘very disappointed’ with some of the comments made about her beliefs.
“All I know is over the last few years, I’ve never had anybody out in community come to me and say ‘we don’t like you’, or ‘we don’t like your beliefs’,” Court told The West Australian. “I’ve had thousands come to me and tap me on the shoulder and say ‘thank you, we really appreciate you’.”
Court’s comments came just hours after she dismissed the controversy surrounding her on Friday, saying she was simply honoured to be receiving the award.
“I think it’s a great honour, I really appreciate it,” Court told reporters on Friday.
“I wasn’t really looking to it. I’m just blessed. I’ve had a wonderful life, a full life in my career and I enjoyed it.
“I loved representing my nation and playing for my nation. It’s always been a part of my life and still is.
Court later added the honour of receiving the award ‘probably goes right next to the Grand Slam’.