One of the bodies responsible for naming sporting arenas in Victoria, Melbourne and Olympic Parks, has said it does not support homophobic comments made by former Australian tennis great Margaret Court.
But the organisation declined to respond to questions about a push to rename Margaret Court arena, or to confirm whether discussions had been held with the other organisation responsible for arena naming rights, Tennis Australia.
“Melbourne and Olympic Parks does not support Margaret Court’s comments and we remain an organisation committed to embracing equality, diversity and inclusion; from our fans to our colleagues who deliver the events that people love to attend,” it said.
Tennis Australia did not respond to questions about the controversy, including whether it had received any complaints about Court’s remarks.
This week Court, who won a record 24 singles championships at grand slam tournaments and who is now a conservative pastor in Perth, said tennis was “full of lesbians” and transgender children were the work of “the devil”.
Last week she said in a letter to the West Australian she was “disappointed that Qantas has become an active promoter for same-sex marriage” and vowed to stop flying with the airline “whenever possible”.
Her comments escalated in the following days. She told Vision Christian Radio station: “Tennis is full of lesbians because even when I was playing there was only a couple there, but those couple that led took young ones into parties and things.”
She said LGBTI people were “confused” and blamed activists for sexuality and gender confusion in children, which she described as “the devil”.
“That’s what Hitler did and that’s what communism did – it got to the mind of the children,” she said. “And there’s a whole plot in our nation, and in the nations of the world, to get to the minds of the children.”
Court has long held anti-LGBTI views, but her recent comments come as support for marriage equality in Australia is strong, at 62% in 2016. There have been calls led by 18-time grand slam singles title-holder Martina Navratilova to rename Margaret Court arena.
“It is now clear exactly who Court is: an amazing tennis player, and a racist and a homophobe,” Navratilova wrote in an open letter to the arena. “Her vitriol is not just an opinion. She is actively trying to keep LGBT people from getting equal rights (note to Court: we are human beings, too). She is demonising trans kids and trans adults everywhere.”
She suggested the court be renamed after another former tennis great, Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Although Melbourne & Olympic Parks and Tennis Australia are responsible for naming arenas, the Victorian government is also consulted. Last year the premier, Daniel Andrews, announced $15m to develop Australia’s first pride centre to serve as a hub for LGBTI groups and organisations. He also appointed an equality minister, Martin Foley, and was the first premier to march in a pride parade.
In 2015, Andrews announced Victoria’s first gender and sexuality commissioner, Rowena Allen. The premier has yet to weigh in on the debate about a name change, and was unavailable for comment when Guardian Australia contacted his office.
A spokeswoman said: “Margaret Court’s comments are offensive and wrong. Victoria prides itself on being an inclusive and welcoming place – and nothing will change that.
Victoria’s equal opportunity and human rights commissioner, Kristen Hilton, said sport was an important part of culture and could provide health benefits, happiness and a sense of belonging. In 2015 the commission launched Australia’s first guidelines on trans and gender-diverse inclusion in sport.
“It would be deeply disappointing if the comments of a former athlete deter young LGBTI people from getting involved in sport or make them feel excluded,” she said.
“While Margaret Court certainly has the right to express her views, it is important to consider the impact of those views on people from the LGBTI community and their friends and family who should be spared potentially hurtful and discriminatory comments from an esteemed public figure,” Hilton said.