Why Margaret Court's comments are wrong and why we must never tolerate intolerance, says Christa Ackroyd

Former tennis star Margaret Court has been heavily criticised for some of her outspoken comments.(PA)
Former tennis star Margaret Court has been heavily criticised for some of her outspoken comments.(PA)
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Good morning and welcome to a new era. For those who have found this column for the first time, hello. I do hope you will join in the debate

For those who have moved with me from midweek, hello again. Good to have you back.

What? You didn’t really think my first column at the weekend would be about Brexit Day One did you? Far too much has been written about that already – and much of it unpleasant and accusatory.

So whether you woke this morning in celebratory mood or with more than a touch of the Brexit blues, it’s happened. At last. Get on with it. And more importantly let’s start getting on with each other.

Which is the theme of my column. This week I am writing about tolerance, though in truth intolerance is more the word I would use to describe the three years of fractious post-Brexit debate we have endured. And what a nasty, snide and insidious debate it has been. Brexit has not brought out the best of British. It has highlighted the worst.

Tolerance is a virtue. It also goes hand in hand with democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of thought. It means you live your life and I live mine. I am not always right and my views don’t mean you are always wrong.

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This week in Australia there has been much debate about Margaret Court, who was without doubt a wonderful tennis player. My mum loved tennis. In fact our cosseted little childhood world came to a complete standstill during Wimbledon.

For two weeks we pretty much fended for ourselves as Mum sat glued to the television, switching between matches, ostensibly busy shelling peas or hulling strawberries. Idle hands to her really were the devil’s workshop.

We would come home from school to a sandwich, when the rest of the year we were always greeted with a home- cooked meal. We sorted out our own gym kit and sneaked chocolate biscuits normally handed out sparingly under mother’s watchful eye in case they would spoil our tea. Our bedrooms could be untidy, we could play out until way past bath time – and we loved it.

When I moved away I would come back home for at least part of those two weeks and watch some tennis with her. Margaret Court was very much part of that era. She and Billie Jean King put women’s tennis on the map.

When Billie Jean came out as gay in the 1980s, my mum, bless her, and her sheltered North Yorkshire upbringing, said nothing, apart from the fact she was a great tennis player.

She loved Martina Navratilova because she was a strong, powerful player who again upped the women’s game and was far better to watch than the boring base play of, say, Chrissie Evert. It would never have occurred to her to even discuss her sexuality. That, she would have said, is her business. And Margaret Court, or Pastor Court as she now prefers to be known, should have taken a leaf out of my mum’s book.

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Her comment that tennis was “full of lesbians... [who] took young ones into parties and things” is pathetic. “I don’t think younger people today really know what I have done,” she bleated.

No, Margaret. But they know what you have said and of your opposition to gay marriage and the transgender community. For a Christian, her comments have been at best hurtful and outdated, at worst homophobic and dangerous.

And the more she keeps spouting them the more she has only herself to blame when the tennis world and the rest of us turn our backs on her and her undoubted achievements.

Margaret Court, this self-appointed bastion of virtue, has gone further, writing an open letter to an Australian airline that supported gay marriage.

She dared to compare LGBT culture and those helping young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality as “the devil”. Then, even worse, in a radio interview she said: “That’s what Hitler did... get in the minds of the children.” And that is unforgivable.

This week we have commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This horrific symbol of cultural intolerance haunts me still, several years after I visited.

And there were hundreds of other death camps and work camps to efficiently dispose of those not tolerated under Hitler’s regime.

Six million Jews perished, symbolised by the yellow star they were forced to wear. Five million other people wore stars and died too. Brown triangles for gypsies, red for political prisoners, green for criminals, blue for immigrants, black for “asocial” people, including prostitutes and lesbians,and pink for gay men. And Margaret Court dares to refer to Hitler and the corrupting of minds.

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Just as she dared in the Seventies to suggest South Africa had got it right when it came to apartheid because “they have this thing better organised than any other country”.

John McEnroe was wrong to call her a “crazy aunt” after his well-publicised and hardly provocative demonstration with Martina during last week’s Australian Open. None of my aunts were that crazy or cruel.

But he was right when he hopes Serena Williams wins two more grand slams to beat her record and consign her and her views to history. Just as the fabulous Rugby League fans across the Pennines from Wigan are right to plan a Pride Day to greet Catalan’s new signing Israel Folau, who ironically was sacked in Australia for declaring hell awaits gay people.

True religion is about inclusion and love, not hatred and division. And, as the Holocaust has taught us, or should have done, we must never tolerate intolerance.