I’ve just got to weigh-in on the Margaret Court controversy.
Some background and context first.
Margaret Court is one of Australia’s great sportswomen. She won 192 singles titles including 24 grand slam tournaments as well as numerous doubles and mixed doubles titles – all in the amateur tennis era – in a career that spanned 17 years. She is the only player to have twice won all twelve grand slam titles in one year. She was admitted to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979, and has received civilian honours under the former imperial system and the modern Australian system.
When it comes to tennis, she is a legend. No argument.
Today, Margaret Court is a senior pastor at a Pentecostal-style church she founded more than 20 years ago. She also has a weekly program on a Christian television channel based in Perth, Western Australia.
The controversy has come about because Court recently wrote an open letter to a Perth newspaper stating that she would no longer travel Qantas, Australia’s national airline. The CEO of the airline, Alan Joyce, declared Qantas’ corporate support for marriage equality. I touched on the matter of major corporates campaigning for marriage equality in an earlier blog in respect of our #RainbowLaces campaign in Australia this year.
Court’s views are not new. She has been a critic of LGBTI rights, marriage equality and other issues that might be viewed as socially progressive for many years.
The opposition to her views from within the tennis fraternity is also not new. Players such as Martina Navratiolva, Renae Stubbs and Billie Jean King have previously challenged her views, and led calls for the ‘Margaret Court Arena’ at Melbourne’s national tennis centre to be renamed. These calls have been repeated again now by past and current players.
Court has also been called-out on her hypocrisy in interpreting the Bible so literally.
She calls homosexuality an “abomination” and points to where there is reference to unions being between men and women. But she ignores the fact that the Bible was written over the span of 2,500 years and during that time, family structure changed dramatically just as it continues to evolve today. In fact, some of the men in the Old Testament had multiple female partners, both married and unmarried, some of whom were nothing more than concubines. Does Court also advocate this?
The Bible also says that women are forbidden from teaching or having authority over men. So where does that place her as leader of her own church?
How’d Pastor Margaret Court get exemption from 1 Timothy 2 “I do not permit a woman to teach”? Or is it OK to ignore bits that apply to you?
— Dom Knight (@domknight) May 25, 2017
It reminds me of this magnificent scene from the brilliant show The West Wing where President Bartlett confronts a radio host with similar views.
Court escalated the controversy recently in a so-called Christian radio show.
She said that tennis was “full of lesbians” who behave as predators on young players and encourage gender ‘fluidity’. That was enough – you’d think – but it got worse. She carried on to say that transgender people are influenced by the devil and that the older women ‘predators’ in tennis use similar methods to Nazism and communism. Seriously.
This, in turn, reminded everyone of her vile views on apartheid: that is, race relations in the USA in the 1960s were worse than South Africa’s apartheid system. Trying telling that to someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Margaret!
Now it’s got to the stage where Court and her supporters are characterising opposition to her views as a ‘freedom of speech’ issue. They forget that she was the one who wrote the open letter criticising Qantas in the first place. They forget that she is on-the-record on these issues for years and years. They forget that she has kept up the discourse with numerous interviews with friendly ‘Christian’ media.
Margaret Court has a right to state her opinion. And so does everyone else. But it is wrong to characterise this as a freedom of speech issue. It’s a human rights issue.
Equality and freedom from discrimination are fundamental human rights for everyone. Everyone. Regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or because someone is intersex. People around the world face violence and inequality because of these issues.
When someone of the stature of Margaret Court continues to make such bigoted, hateful statements, it does two things. It hurts those affected. And it reduces the stature of Margaret Court. Instead of being remembered for her magnificence on a tennis court, she is seen as a relic who is out-of-touch on the social issues that are important to our society in the 21st century.
For this reason, I support the call for the ‘Margaret Court Arena’ to be renamed. As Martina Navratilova eloquently states here, a structure is afforded someone’s name because of their entire body of work and who they are.
I don’t want any building, sporting venue or public place in Australia to be named after someone who is a racist and a homophobe.
As for Qantas, can I just say as a frequent international flyer, it’s a great airline. In my view, Alan Joyce’s advocacy and leadership on marriage equality make it greater. I’d love to see more businesses and brands take a progressive view on supporting social issues.