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Sport Comment: Courting controversy: Sorry Margaret, it's your own fault

05:35  07 november  2019
05:35  07 november  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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a man standing in front of a crowd: Margaret Court has become a controversial figure in world tennis.© Vince Caligiuri Margaret Court has become a controversial figure in world tennis.

Margaret Court is yesterday’s hero. She was once a mighty athlete, the best tennis player in the world. Her record is more impressive than anyone who has ever picked up a racquet. Nobody has won more Grand Slam singles titles than Court’s 24. She also won 19 doubles and 21 mixed doubles Grand Slam titles.

Why then, is there any doubting Tennis Australia will celebrate the 50th anniversary of her grand slam year? After all, they celebrated Rod Laver for the same achievement with gusto earlier this year.

Court expects Tennis Australia to roll out the red carpet for her, just as they did for Rocket Rod. Said Court: “They brought Rod in from America. If they think I’m just going to turn up, I don’t think that is right. I think I should be invited. I would hope they would pay my way to come like they paid for his, and honour me. If they are not going to do that, I don’t really want to come.”

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It is a great shame that Court is such a polarising figure. She should be revered in Australia. People of all generations should know and honour her for her illustrious career and mighty feats on the tennis court.

But the reality is far different. The reality is that people too young to remember the 77-year-old in action don’t know of her tennis triumphs. Nor, it seems, do they care.

They know her for her controversial comments regarding gay marriage and homosexuality. Court has railed against same sex marriage, stated that “tennis is full of lesbians” and openly condemned those who disagree with her strong views.

Court appears bemused by the fuss she’s caused, claiming that her life views should not impact the way her tennis career is perceived and celebrated.

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But surely Court knows that’s not the way things work in the real world. Sporting heroes are defined through the values that characterise society at the time. Those who we worship are the ones who best uphold the characteristics and principles we value most.  But just as society changes, so too do our heroes. Regardless of how much an athlete might think of themselves, they don’t get to decide whether they’re liked or not, or even whether they’re respected of not – the public do.

This is where Court has lost her lustre. Many believe her views belong back in the dark ages. These people don’t share her values, nor do they see life through the same lens.

In expressing her views – which is her right – she’s fallen out of step with much of society, failing to remain relevant and, worse, falling out of the hearts and minds of many Australians. This might seem dreadfully unfair, but it’s always been the same. We’re far more likely to celebrate athletes – both past and present – if we can relate to them and believe that they represent our time, our era, our lifestyles and our values.

That’s not to say Court won’t be recognised by Tennis Australia at next year’s Australian Open, but even if she is, it will be a rather shallow celebration, for many people won’t be joining in. For them, she’s yesterday’s hero.

Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.

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