Melbourne, Australia – Australian tennis great Margaret Court said she was being “persecuted” for her beliefs on Monday after criticism of her anti-gay views overshadowed 50th-anniversary celebrations of her 1970 Grand Slam.
The 77-year-old, now a church pastor, urged the media to focus on her tennis and not her beliefs, which include staunch opposition to same-sex marriage and comments that tennis is “full of lesbians.”
Court, tennis’ most decorated champion with a record 24 Grand Slam titles, has caused a dilemma for Australian Open organizers, who will mark the anniversary but have distanced themselves from her opinions.
“I think even at home, around the streets, wherever I go, I’ve had so many people touch me on the shoulder and say ‘thank you for being my voice,'” Court told ABC radio.
“I haven’t had anybody touch me on the shoulder and say ‘I hate you’ or ‘I don’t like what you’ve said.’
“I teach what the Bible says about things and you get persecuted for it,” added Court.
“But I still believe all that should not come in to 50 years ago, what I did in tennis for my nation.”
Court has arrived in Melbourne for the anniversary celebrations, which will include a presentation on center court and “other functions that go on that normally happen throughout the Open… not a lot, but it’s good what’s happening.”
Court is a hugely divisive figure in tennis, with WTA founder Billie Jean King among those calling for Melbourne Park’s Margaret Court Arena to be renamed because of her attitude towards gays and transsexuals.
Tennis Australia, when it announced Court’s anniversary celebrations last month, said it “does not agree with Court’s personal views, which have demeaned and hurt many in our community over a number of years.”