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Thursday June 21st, 2018 6:31AM

Billie Jean King backs calls to rename Margaret Court Arena

By The Associated Press
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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Billie Jean King thinks one of the main venues at the Australian Open should be renamed because of Margaret Court's comments about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

King, a trailblazer for equality and diversity in tennis, said she had initially been a proponent of having Margaret Court Arena named in 2003 in recognition of the 24-time Grand Slam singles winner's contribution to the sport.

"I was fine until lately when she said so many derogatory things about my community — I'm a gay woman — about the LBGTIQ community," King said at news conference Friday. "That really went deep in my heart and soul.

"I personally don't think she should have (her name on the stadium) anymore."

King is attending the Australian Open for the first time in eight years, marking the 50th anniversary of her win over Court for the Australian title.

King said if she was still competing, she wouldn't play on Margaret Court Arena. King said she wouldn't promote a boycott of the stadium, but encouraged players to "seek their own heart and mind" before making a decision.

Organizers have recognized the American tennis great as the Australian Open Woman of the Year and launched its "Open4All" initiative to promote equality, diversity and inclusion to coincide with King's visit.

King, one of the original professionals in women's tennis and winner of 12 major singles titles in the Open era, said she had regularly met with Court at tournaments in the years since they retired after "we grew up together playing each other."

The 75-year-old Court, who holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles across the amateur and Open eras, is a Christian pastor who lives in Perth, Western Australia.

Court's negative comments about gay people before Australia voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage were heavily criticized last year. Court also has called transgender children the work of "the devil."

Martina Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles winner, wrote an open letter last year criticizing Court and recommended that tennis officials rename the arena after another Australian great, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

King said she lobbied on Court's behalf after Melbourne Park's center court was named for Rod Laver in 2000. Her show court was recently upgraded to add a roof and bigger capacity.

Court is a regular at the event, but is not attending this year's Australian Open, which starts Monday.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said Court had a standing invitation to the season-opening major, and would be welcome in the future as she had been in the past.

He said there had been "conversation" among stakeholders of Melbourne Park regarding the issue, but there was no process in place to change the name of the stadium. He said Tennis Australia — a tenant at the venue — would take the lead of the government on the issue.

In 2006, the U.S. Tennis Association named the site of the U.S. Open, located in a public park in New York, the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

King said she wished Court was in Melbourne so they could continue the conversation.

"You can have discussion around it. I would be very welcome to Margaret," the 74-year-old King said. "It's really important if you're going to have your name on anything that you're hospitable, you're inclusive, you open your arms to everyone that comes. It's a public facility."

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Tennis, AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Sports - Women's Tennis
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