January 26, 2020 / 8:03 AM / 4 months ago

Court's Grand Slam anniversary clouded by remarks on same-sex marriage

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian Open will mark the 50th anniversary of Margaret Court’s calendar Grand Slam on Monday but the ceremony is expected to be muted amid criticism of the 77-year-old’s views on same-sex marriage.

Tennis Australia (TA), the sport’s national governing body, is set to hold a special presentation ceremony for Court on Monday at Melbourne Park commemorating her 1970 feat of winning all four major titles.

Court, who also holds the all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles, has been heavily criticized for voicing her religious-based opposition to same-sex marriage.

TA has been quick to stress that it did not agree with Court’s views on same-sex marriage or the LGBTI community.

“As often stated, Tennis Australia does not agree with Court’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years,” it said in a statement in November.

“They do not align with our values of equality, diversity and inclusion.”

Earlier this week, Australian Open chief executive Craig Tiley clarified the organization’s position, saying that the “recognition is for her tennis achievements only”.

“First of all, we’ve said from the outset that we will recognize what Margaret accomplished back in 1970 when she won all four grand slams,” he told the Tennis Channel.

“And there’s a difference between a recognition of that and a celebration of someone.”

Court, a Christian pastor at a Perth-based church she set up decades ago, launched a tirade against transgender athletes and called the teaching of LGBTI materials at schools the work of the “devil” during a sermon last month.

She had previously angered LGBTI activists and a number of former and current players after saying in a 2017 radio interview that tennis was “full of lesbians”.

Her great rival Billie Jean King as well as 18-times Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova have both joined calls for the Melbourne Park show court, Margaret Court Arena, to be renamed.

Only two other women have completed the calendar Grand Slam, widely considered the greatest feat in tennis: American Maureen Connolly in 1953 and German Steffi Graf in 1988.

Australian Rod Laver, who completed the calendar Slam twice in 1962 and 1969, is the only man to do so after Don Budge in 1938.

The Australian Open marked Laver’s achievement with a similar ceremony last year.

Editing by Peter Rutherford

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