Billie Jean King believes the name of Margaret Court Arena should be changed and said she would refuse to play on it if she were competing in this year’s Australian Open.
The row concerning the name of Melbourne Park’s third show court has rumbled on since last summer, when 11-time Australian Open champion Court voiced increasingly extreme views as Australia prepared to vote on same-sex marriage.
Court, who is now a Pentecostal minister, claimed a gay lobby was trying to get into the minds of children and that transgenderism was the work of the devil.
The 75-year-old, whose 24 grand slam singles titles is the most of any player in history, also criticised Australian player Casey Dellacqua for having two children with her female partner.
The possibility of a boycott was raised if the name was not changed, although tournament director Craig Tiley said players have not communicated any such intentions to him.
Martina Navratilova has been Court’s most outspoken critic and King, a leading gay rights and equality activist, echoed her fellow tennis great.
Speaking at a press conference after being named Australian Open Woman of the Year in association with the tournament’s new equality initiative Open4All, King said: “If I were playing today I would not play there.
“It’s really important if you’re going to have your name on anything that you’re hospitable, you’re inclusive, you open your arms to everyone that comes.
“Over time I’ve reflected. I was fine until lately when she says so many derogatory things about my community. That really went deep in my heart and soul and I personally don’t think she should have her name (attached to the arena) any more.
“I think if you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can’t imagine the public would want someone to have their name on something.
“I have my name on the whole facility in the US (the US Open is played at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center) and every time I see my name up there I can hardly breathe because of the responsibility.
“When she talked about transgender people being children of the devil, that really put me over the edge because we’re all God’s children.
“I wish Margaret were here this year. I was looking forward to seeing her. We usually sit next to each other in the Royal Box and have a great time. I wish she here so we could further this discussion.”
Court declined an annual invitation to attend this year’s event, saying she was going crabbing.
Australian Open organisers have made it clear they do not agree with Court’s views, publicly and to Court herself, but have stopped short of pushing for a name change.
The issue is complicated by the fact the tournament is only a tenant of Melbourne Park, which is managed and operated by a government trust.
Tiley said: “Our position has been pretty straightforward. Margaret’s views are her views, they’re not the views of our organisation, they’re not the views of our sport.
“We’re an organisation that celebrates diversity and inclusivity and equality. When it comes specifically to taking action on the naming of the arena, our position stops before that because we’re not the ones that are going to be able to make that final call.
“There’s a number of stakeholders but there’s ongoing conversation.”