Australian Open 2018: Billie Jean King calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed, says she'd refuse to play there

Melbourne: American tennis star Billie Jean King has called for Melbourne's Margaret Court Arena to be renamed as controversy rages over the Australian tennis great's divisive views on sexuality.

King has been named by Tennis Australia as the Australian Open "woman of the year" on the 50th anniversary of her first title Down Under and she used the opportunity Friday to voice her disgust of Court's views on sexual and gender equality.

 Australian Open 2018: Billie Jean King calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed, says shed refuse to play there

File image of former tennis player Billie Jean King. Reuters

Court, now a church pastor, drew fire last year for saying she would avoid Qantas airline for its support of same-sex marriage, which became law in her homeland in December following a referendum.

She later claimed tennis was "full of lesbians" and that transgender children were the result of a Nazi-style "plot" to brainwash the minds of young people.

Her views drew stinging criticism from a host of players including former star Martina Navratilova, who called Court a "homophobe" and lashed out at the "sick and dangerous" comments.

King, who is also gay, said she originally lobbied for Court to be honoured by tournament organisers when they renamed the stadium in 2003.

But she said she could no could longer support the flagship court bearing her friend's name because of her views on sexuality.

"I was a proponent of hers, trying to get her to the best possible court,” King told reporters Friday.

"She won 64 grand slams. She won more than everybody else."

"When Rod Laver got given the arena, I said 'what are you going to do for Margaret?'"

"But I think it's its really important, if you're going to have your name on anything, that you're hospitable, inclusive, you're opening arms to everyone that comes to a public facility."

King said Court's attacks on sexually diverse people were the last straw.

"I was fine until lately she said so many derogatory things about my community. I'm a gay woman; about the LGBTIQ community," she said.

"That really went deep in my heart and soul.

"I don't think she should have her name (on it) any more."

King said she would refuse to play on the arena if she was appearing at next week's tournament, but she wouldn't counsel others to do so.

Instead, she encouraged players to think about the issue and "look inside their heart" before making a decision.

The furore of Court's views led to suggestions that some players would boycott the Margaret Court Arena at Monday's opening Grand Slam unless the flagship stadium at Melbourne Park was renamed.

Court has announced she will not attend this month's tournament, although she denied she was avoiding the tournament after the controversy.

"I don't run from things, I face them," she told Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper. "I decided not to come across this year and do more crabbing."

The Perth-based Court said she would instead head to her holiday home and watch the tennis on television, while indulging her hobby of catching crabs.

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Updated Date: Jan 12, 2018 15:55:22 IST

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