The decision to award Margaret Court, one of Australia’s greatest tennis players, the country’s highest honour has drawn angry criticism because of her anti-gay views.
The 78-year-old won 24 singles and 40 doubles Grand Slam titles during her career before retraining as a pastor.
Her views on the LGBT community have sparked widespread condemnation.
Two state governors said she should not be awarded the Order of Australia’s highest level.
She is already an Officer of the order and is set to become a Companion.
Without naming her, Victoria state leader Daniel Andrews said on social media: “Grand Slam wins don’t give you some right to spew hatred and create division”.
I don’t want to give this person’s disgraceful, bigoted views any oxygen.
But when others insist on rewarding them with this country’s highest honour – I think it’s worth saying again:
Grand Slam wins don’t give you some right to spew hatred and create division.
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) January 22, 2021
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Mark McGowan, premier of Ms Court’s home state of Western Australia, said the awards “should go to unsung heroes across the country and there’s a great many of them”.
The awards are usually announced during the Australia Day holiday on 26 January, and news of Ms Court’s accolade was leaked early – something she told ABC News she was disappointed by.
She also said she was “honoured” to receive the award and wanted people to focus on her tennis achievements, which included becoming the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon in 1963.
Addressing the hurt caused by her comments about the LGBT community, she told ABC she was “never really pointing the finger at them as an individual. I love all people, I have nothing against people, but I’m just saying what the Bible says”.
She urged people to “move on” from the controversies, saying: “It’s very sad people hold on to that and still want to bully.”
However, it is unlikely to prove that easy for her.
The Perth-based pastor sparked widespread condemnation when in 2017 she said tennis was “full of lesbians” and that transgender children were the work of “the devil”.
She has also said she would not fly on Australian airline Qantas “where possible” in protest at its support of same-sex marriage.
In 2013, she did single out an individual. Writing in a newspaper about the birth of Australian tennis player Casey Dellacqua’s child in a same-sex relationship, she said: “It is with sadness that I see that this baby has seemingly been deprived of a father.”
Many in the tennis world – including Grand Slam winners Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, who are both gay – have condemned Ms Court for her views.
A year ago Ms Navratilova and John McEnroe paraded a banner at the Australian Open calling for the Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne to be renamed.
The banner, painted in aboriginal style by Ms Navratilova, bore the words “Evonne Goolagong Arena” in recognition of another of Australia’s leading women tennis players.
Tennis Australia has consistently stated it does not agree with Margaret Court’s personal views as they do not align with its values of “equality, diversity and inclusion”, but it has refused to rename the court.