Navratilova hits out at Margaret Court over lesbian comments

The former tennis player penned an open letter after Court’s homphobic comments

Martina Navratilova has stepped up her call to rename Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne in an escalating row with her fellow former world No1, who said this week that tennis is “full of lesbians” and that transgender children were the work of “the devil”.

Court, the 74-year-old Australian tennis champion turned pastor, also claimed that an Australian programme tackling homophobic bullying in schools was the work of a “gay lobby” that was trying to “get [into]the minds of children”.

Czech-American Navratilova, who married her long-term partner Julia Lemigova in 2014, has led calls for the Australian Open court to be renamed following Court's comments. "We celebrate free speech, but that doesn't mean it is free of consequences – not punishment, but consequences," Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, wrote in an open letter published by Fairfax Media.

“We should not be celebrating this kind of behaviour, this kind of philosophy. The platform people like Margaret Court use needs to be made smaller, not bigger.”


An online petition calling for the renaming of the court has attracted 3,700 signatures. Billie Jean King has backed Navratilova’s call, as has the Dutch player Richel Hogencamp, who questioned whether players would feel comfortable competing on a court named in Court’s honour. The Australian former world number four player Samantha Stosur suggested players might boycott the court at next year’s Australian Open.

It was not the first time Court has made incendiary comments about same-sex marriage, which is not yet legal in Australia, and homosexuality. Last week Court said she would boycott the Qantas airline over its support for same-sex marriage.

The Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, waded into the row last week, rejecting the calls for the arena to be renamed. “Whatever people may think about Margaret Court’s views about gay marriage . . . she is one of the all-time greats and the Margaret Court Arena celebrates Margaret Court the tennis player,” Turnbull said on Friday.

In an interview with a Christian radio station this week, Court doubled down on the comments, claiming that only a minority of the LGBTQ community wanted marriage equality and describing homosexuality as “a lust of the flesh”.

She also criticised the Safe Schools anti-bullying campaign, saying: “The gay lobby is behind that bullying programme in schools and children not knowing, whether they are taking out a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ and an ‘it’ and a ‘we’ or ‘they’ and if you feel like being a girl you can dress like a girl. I think, what confusion for a child. I get confused talking about it.”

Court dismissed the calls for the arena to be renamed as “bullying”. “It’s their way of bullying now because I think Australia is still Judeo-Christian,” she said, adding: “I think it’s very sad they’re using that [Margaret Court Arena] to try to hit below the belt.”

Court, a Christian pastor at Perth’s Victory Life church, has also targeted the Australian player, Casey Dellacqua, who has two children in a gay relationship. In a letter after the birth of Dellacqua’s son in 2013, Court wrote of her “sadness” that the baby “has seemingly been deprived of his father”.

Many players expressed their support for Dellacqua and same-sex marriage last week.

“Her vitriol is not just an opinion,” Navratilova wrote in her open letter. “She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere.

“And now, linking LGBT to Nazis, communists, the devil? This is not OK. This is in fact sick and it is dangerous. Kids will suffer more because of this continuous bashing and stigmatising of our LGBT community.”

Navratilova concluded the letter, addressed to Margaret Court Arena, by suggesting the venue’s name should be changed to the Evonne Goolagong Arena, after another Australian former world No 1 tennis player.

“[That] has a great ring to it. Now there is a person we can all celebrate. On every level.”

Tennis Australia has so far resisted the calls to rename the arena, saying last week that Court’s views “are her own”.

(Guardian services)