Reports that controversial tennis legend Margaret Court will be recognised with the nation’s highest honour on Australia Day has sparked a wave of furious backlash.
Claims emerged on social media on Friday morning that Ms Court will be appointed the Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) for her sporting success.
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A Melbourne broadcaster leaked the news on Twitter.
The names of those receiving Australia Day honours are not meant to be released until 10pm on Monday.
Ms Court has become a divisive figure for her outspoken views on homosexuality, conversion therapy, same-sex marriage and transgender people.
There have been repeated calls for Tennis Australia to distance itself from her, as well as a campaign to rename Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park.
The backlash was swift, with the Gosford Anglican Church sign even denouncing the decision.
Father Rod Bower of the church posted on social media without ever using Ms Court’s name that it is “baffling to discover that someone who has already been honoured, at an appropriate level, for their area of excellence is now to receive an AC”.
“It is disturbing to note that this award is being given to someone that holds views that are actually damaging to other human beings,” he wrote.
“Now before the ‘free speechers’ get all hot and bothered I am not saying that people cannot express their opinions, as offensive as I may find them and as damaging as they can be.
“However, I am saying that affording such high honours to people who express such detrimental and discredited views will undoubtedly compound the damage their opinions have caused.”
Ms Court told reporters it was a “great honour” to be receiving the prestigious award.
“I wasn’t really looking to it. I’m just blessed. I’ve had a wonderful life, a full life in my career and I enjoyed it,” 7News reported her saying.
“I loved representing my nation and playing for my nation. It’s always been a part of my life and still is.”
When asked about the backlash to her receiving the award, Ms Court claimed she hadn’t heard anything about it.
“I think I’ll just stay around the tennis side in this time and that’s what I’m receiving it for. It is a great honour, so I appreciate it,” she said.
She was then asked what she thought about Victorian Premier Daniel Andrew’s criticism, to which she responded, “Well, I’ll call him blessed”.
Mr Andrews said he was “quite sick” of discussing Ms Court, after being asked about the backlash to her award during a press conference on Friday.
“I’m quite sick of talking about that person every summer,” he said.
“I do not support that but I don’t give out those gongs, that’s not a matter for me, that’s for others.’
Mr Andrews called Ms Court’s views “disgraceful and hurtful”, adding they “cost lives”.
“Calling out bigotry is always important. This bigoted quackery costs lives.”
The premier then took to Twitter to double down on his comments, saying Ms Court’s sporting achievements don’t give her the right to make such hateful comments towards a group of people.
“I don’t want to give this person’s disgraceful, bigoted views any oxygen,” he said.
“But when others insist on rewarding them with this country’s highest honour – I think it’s worth saying again: Grand Slam wins don’t give you some right to spew hatred and create division. Nothing does.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also hit out at the award, claiming Ms Court has “already been honoured for her tennis prowess”.
“She’s already an Officer of the order of Australia,” he wrote
“I think it’s clear for everyone to see that making her a Companion of the Order of Australia has nothing to do with tennis.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on the situation when asked about the backlash during a press conference on Friday.
“I can’t comment on an award that’s done through an independent process that hasn’t been announced or I have no official knowledge of,” he said.
“This is a completely independent set of processes. It is an announcement that will be announced on that day. It is a system that recognises the full spectrum of individuals across this country.”
Ms Court caused a stir ahead of last year’s Australian Open where she was honoured for the 50th anniversary of her grand slam.
A month before the event she delivered a sermon at her church in Perth where she doubled down on her controversial views regarding sexuality.
Ms Court condemned transgender athletes during a fiery address, claiming young people should not change their assigned sex because “God made us that way”, calling young transgender Australians “so wrong”.
“Children are making the decision at seven or eight years of age to change their sex … no, just read the first two chapters of Genesis, that’s all I say. Male and female,” she said.
“It’s so wrong at that age because a lot of things are planted in this thought realm at that age, and they start to question ‘what am I’.
“And you know with that LGBT, they’ll wish they never put the T on the end of it because, particularly in women’s sports, they’re going to have so many problems
“You have got young people taking hormones and having changes, by the time they are 17 they are thinking, ‘Now I’m a boy and really I was a girl’.
“Because you know what, God made us that way.”
Her comments prompted former world number one John McEnroe and 18-time Grand Slam champion Martina Navratilova to hold an on-court protest during the Australian Open.
The pair held up a sign which read “Evonne Goolagong Arena”, referring to calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed.
Ms Court labelled their actions “very, very wrong”, suggesting were in no position to protest as they did on Australian soil.
“I’d never go to another nation, whatever I thought of a person, I would never say, ‘Hey, you should take their name off a building’,” she said.
“I would never do that … I think that was very, very wrong.”
Ms Court has previously labelled Navratilova “a great player” but thought it was “very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality”.