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Margaret Court Arena should be renamed, says Billie Jean King

13 January 2018

Fifteen years agon when an arena at Australia's Melbourne Park was named for the country's 24-time Grand Slam victor Margaret Court, tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King spoke on behalf of honoring the former athlete turned Pentecostal minister for her towering achievements in the sport.

King cited a radio interview Court, 75, gave last May, in which she said it was satanic when children questioned their gender identity. "I'm a gay woman; about the LGBTIQ community", King said.

She first made statements against gay and lesbian rights in 2012, and calls for the arena to be renamed are now stronger than ever ahead of this year's Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday.

Now, openly gay tennis great King has weighed in on the debate around the renaming of the Arena, saying in a news conference: "I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community".

King says she lobbied on behalf of Court to be recognized after the main tennis stadium in Melbourne was named after Rod Laver, however the American - a lesbian and civil-rights campaigner - says she would now refuse to play on the showcourt named after her former rival. She said: "I think that is petty if they do that and it says what's in their heart". "I personally don't think she should have her name (on it) any more", King, 74, told reporters at Melbourne Park.

"But I think it's its really important, if you're going to have your name on anything, that you're hospitable, inclusive, you're opening arms to everyone that comes to a public facility". Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said there had been "conversations" about changing the name of the stadium but added there were no plans to do so.

"If you were talking about indigenous people, Jews or any other people, I can't imagine the public would want somebody (with those views) to have their name on something".

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King drew a contrast between herself and Martina Navratilova, who has been calling for the name to be changed since a year ago, saying she had needed to be "very reflective before I come out and say anything".

"Maybe because it's the LGBTI community people might feel differently, but we're all God's children, so I probably don't think it's appropriate to have her name".

She said: "They want marriage because they want to destroy it".

But she said while she personally supported a change, the decision was ultimately up to the people of Australia and would not be easy. That question was posed to Tennis Channel's Mary Carillo by Jon Wertheim in the latest Beyond the Baseline podcast (listen here) during a discussion about Margaret Court, the 24-time Grand Slam singles champion.

"It's up to a broader group of people", he said of any move to rename the stadium.

"It is now clear exactly who Court is: an incredible tennis player, and ... a homophobe".

Margaret Court Arena should be renamed, says Billie Jean King