The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - SPORT -

PEO­PLE should have the “free­dom” to say what­ever e r they like in this coun­try y but in the same e breath that doesn’t ’ t give them a li­cence ce to de­mean oth­ers rs and make them feel eel like rub­bish.

Which is what t 24time grand slam cham­pion am­pion Mar­garet Court has done on many oc­ca­sions over the past cou­ple of decades. des

Court was an amaz­ing player. In­cred­i­ble. She won all four ma­jors in 1970 and fin­ished her ca­reer with 24 grand slam sin­gles ti­tles — the most in his­tory.

She ab­so­lutely de­serves recog­ni­tion for the 50th an­niver­sary of her grand slam year. And she’s get­ting it.

Most re­cently, Ten­nis Aus­tralia em­ployed a film crew to in­ter­view Court and those clos­est to her about her achieve­ments — over seven hours. The full cel­e­bra­tion of Court’s 50th an­niver­sary is yet to be re­vealed but one fact is clear — she isn’t be­ing ig­nored.

She will be recog­nised, her on-court achieve­ments re­spected, but it won’t be at the same mag­ni­tude as the great Rod Laver’s re­cent 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions. And that’s the way it should be.

It’s fair enough con­sid­er­ing the hurt­ful, dis­re­spect­ful and dam­ag­ing things Court has said over decades which have af­fected those within the ten­nis com­mu­nity and out­side of it.

Char­ac­ter counts on oc­ca­sions like these.

Just be­cause you were amaz­ing with a ten­nis rac­quet doesn’t mean every­one should turn a blind eye to your big­otry over decades.

In the 1990s Court de­clared that les­bians were ru­in­ing women’s ten­nis.

She said that Martina Navratilov­a was “a great player” but that she’d “like some­one at the top who the younger play­ers can look up to”.

In 2017, she said gay mar­riage was caus­ing huge prob­lems in coun­tries where it was le­galised, that ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity was an un­godly “lust for the flesh” and that LGBT ten­den­cies in young peo­ple were “all the devil”.

“That’s what Hitler did. That’s what com­mu­nism did,” Court said, “get in the minds of the chil­dren.

“There’s a whole plot in our na­tion and in the na­tions of the world to get in the minds of the chil­dren.”

She boy­cotted Qan­tas when the com­pany de­cided to sup­port gay mar­riage.

When Aus­tralian ten­nis player turned com­men­ta­tor Casey Del­lac­qua and her part­ner Amanda had their first baby in 2013, Court wrote, “It is with sad­ness that I see that this baby has seem­ingly been de­prived of a fa­ther.” Four years later Del­lac­qua, who knew Court well and played ten­nis with her in

Perth, said that

Court’s ar­ti­cle caused her great pain.

“At “the time, I was re­ally rea hurt. I mean, I was w ac­tu­ally a hurt know be­cause MarI D Del­lac­qua garet g per­son­ally,” said, in 2017. 2 “I am very con­scious sc of the fact that every­one eve is al­lowed their thei opinion, but when you start sin­gling out my fam­ily es­pe­cially, that’s when wh it’s not okay. And my fam­ily do not de­serve to be b sub­ject to that.”

The fact is you can’t liken some of the best Aus­tralian women to have played the game to the “devil”, and then ex­pect Ten­nis Aus­tralia to roll out the red car­pet for you on your 50th an­niver­sary.

Does Court re­ally ex­pect that all in the ten­nis com­mu­nity will be ador­ing her and wildly cheer­ing for her af­ter ex­press­ing such ab­hor­rent views about them or their peers?

It is un­der­stood Court’s opin­ions over the years have left play­ers dis­traught and trau­ma­tised — who knows the im­pact of her words on the greater com­mu­nity?

Us­ing “re­li­gious views” as a shield to make harm­ful state­ments re­ally isn’t okay. And it is not wash­ing in sport any­more.

An ex­am­ple of im­pres­sive lead­er­ship on an is­sue like this was when the New Aus­tralian Rugby League com­mis­sioner Peter V’landys ad­dressed the me­dia last week. V’landys was asked if foot­baller Is­rael Fo­lau, who shares sim­i­lar views to Court, would ever be wel­comed back.

“The game is in­clu­sive. Is­rael's com­ments are not in­clu­sive,” V’landys said. But what V’landys, who em­i­grated from Greece to Aus­tralia as a four-year-old, said next was a pow­er­ful in­sight.

“When I was a kid and kids used to get bashed up be­cause they were dif­fer­ent,” V’landys said, “I used to go and de­fend them. And a lot of them, it’s be­cause their role mod­els or their peers made them that way. “I have no tol­er­ance for peo­ple that put other peo­ple’s lives (at risk) or (com­mit) vi­o­lence. It’s a big state­ment to make.

“With due re­spect to Is­rael, what he says, young kids lis­ten to. He is a role model. They act on it. And when you’re a kid at school and you get bashed up be­cause you’re dif­fer­ent, I don't think that’s a good thing.”

It’s not a good thing. Lead­ers like V’landys are a breath of fresh air in sport. They’re gutsy, they think about every­one, and that’s in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant. Be­cause the world has changed since Court com­pleted a grand slam 50

years ago.

Mar­garet aret Court rt and Ro Rod Laver. r Pic­ture: Laver Fam­ily Pri­vate Col­lec­tion

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