Tennis great Court vows to keep Aussie award despite backlash

Margaret Court at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: NYTIMES

Melbourne (AFP) - Tennis great Margaret Court insisted Tuesday she would not give back a high-profile Australian honour after a backlash over her views on the LGBTQ community, claiming she "loves" gay and transgender people.

The 78-year-old, the all-time record holder for Grand Slam titles who is now a church pastor, was elevated to a Companion of the Order of Australia on the country's national day Tuesday.

But news of the award - Australia's highest honour - saw Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews slam her "disgraceful" and "hurtful" opinions.

And respected broadcaster Kerry O'Brien rejected his Australia Day gong in protest at the "insensitive" decision to honour Court, while LGBTQ advocate Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo said she would hand back the medal she received in 2016.

Court has attracted controversy over her stance on sexuality and support of gay conversion therapy, drawing condemnation for saying "tennis is full of lesbians" and describing transgender children as "the work of the devil".

She enraged fellow tennis greats including Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova when she announced a boycott of national airline Qantas for its CEO's support of same-sex marriage, which Australia introduced in 2017.

"No," Court said, when asked on Melbourne radio station 3AW if she would return the award.

"Because I loved representing my nation. When I got my AO (Officer of the Order of Australia) it was for my community outreach area, where we put out 75 tonnes of food a week.

"This was for my tennis and I think it was a long time coming and I'm very honoured... We did nothing but play for our nation."

Court, one of only five players to win all four Majors in the same year, refused to be drawn on Andrews' stance, while claiming her previous comments had been misrepresented by the media.

"I don't hate anybody, I love people and I love gay people and transgender people. We get them into our community services, we never turn anybody away," she said.

"I can be bullied, I've been bullied a lot in the last few years and I don't mind, that's all right.

"But if I say anything, then I'm a bigot and I'm everything else and I don't like that and I think the press has caused a lot of that."

Court's record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles has stood since 1973. Serena Williams, one behind on 23, will make her latest attempt to equal Court at next month's Australian Open.

Court said she would not be heading to Melbourne Park this year, where one of the show courts is named after her.

"No, I wasn't invited," she said. "With coronavirus, we've been so busy with our community work. I haven't even thought about it."

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