Only in tennis, with its penchant for fashionable consensus, could a figure like Margaret Court be so angrily denounced as a heretic. Other sports seem perfectly capable of tolerating rogue voices, even when the taunts get downright nasty. Take boxing, which made Tyson Fury a hero, a figure who in 2015 argued that the growing acceptance of homosexuality signaled that the end of the world was approaching.
Fury framed his comment in terms of his biblical belief, describing himself as a “model” who followed Jesus. It’s no different from how Court phrased his more fire-and-brimstone rhetoric. During my long chat with her over the weekend, the 80-year-old, a woman of devout Pentecostal faith, explained, “I became a Christian when I was world No. You will never change me from that. That’s what I believe and what the Bible says.
But where Fury ended up being adored, selling 94,000 Wembley tickets for her last fight, Court became such an outcast she was simply ignored this summer at Wimbledon, where she appeared for Center Court’s centenary. . It is not just a sinister discourtesy that an elderly lady, a three-time All England Club singles champion, feels exiled to the stage she once graced. It reflects how tennis, a game that likes to portray itself as genteel and progressive, has shifted towards a form of thought policing.
Isn’t it the mark of a civilized society that we engage even with those with whom we strongly disagree? Not in tennis, unfortunately. To go against the tide in this environment is to be thrown into the bonfire of righteous indignation. You see it with Novak Djokovic, shunned as a crank and anti-vaxxer, while effectively being banned from half the slams for having bad views. But you see it most clearly with Court, whose very existence seems so boring to her sport that there are annual campaigns to demolish her name at Melbourne’s Margaret Court Arena.
Tennis intolerance takes more insidious forms
It is instructive to study the main lobbyists on this front. One of them is Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, who in 2019 called for the stadium to be renamed, saying: “Intolerance has no place in tennis”. Oh, but it is, Anna. It just takes more insidious forms, in the form of “Be Kind” activists who can’t bear to hear perspectives other than their own.
Wintour, you see, happens to be a longtime cheerleader for Serena Williams, who failed to match Court’s record of 24 major singles crowns. She was even in the American Lodge in New York last week. And so she handed over her magazine last month to Williams to write a selfish cover, denying Court any case of being acclaimed as the greatest. “Day to day, I don’t really think about her,” she said.
Predictably, Court was excoriated on social media for daring to remind people in her Telegraph interview that she was still the record holder, as self-proclaimed ‘cultural commentators’ rushed to form a Praetorian Guard around Queen Serena. Honestly, who cares? It is a dark characteristic of the times that the most judgmental people always turn out to be the least tolerant people of all.
I hope, however, that Court can take solace in the responses of Telegraph readers, the majority of whom on Monday acknowledged the points she was making, and who shared fond memories of the sportsmanship she displayed in his pump.
We live in a curious and staggering time, where the Court may risk being erased from history just for expressing polarizing opinions. But let’s be clear: Court’s sermons as a pastor in no way dilute her astounding accomplishments as a player. She can’t be struck from the books just because her fiercest critics refuse to differentiate between the two characters. It’s a delightful irony that many would like the building that bears her name to be renamed Evonne Goolagong Arena. The problem is that Goolagong Cawley herself has long been one of Court’s main admirers. “Margaret is my hero,” she said in 2017. “Great player, wonderful champion, true professional.”
Margaret Court’s opinions do not warrant her erasure from history