Sports and freethought issues rarely come into conflict, but there is a huge controversy in Australia that is brewing this week. Australian tennis player Margaret Court is due to be awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, as part of Australia Day, a national holiday in Australia. Unlike Independence Day in the United States, which celebrates the separation from England every year on July 4th, Australia Day celebrates the 1788 arrival of the British Fleet in New South and the raising of the British flag in Sydney Cove. The day is marked with parades, fireworks and summer barbecues, as Australia is south of the Equator.
At the same time, Wikipedia notes that some human rights groups “refer to January 26 as Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning to observe it as a counter-celebration and advocate that the date should be changed, or that the holiday should be abolished entirely.”
Why this award is being given to Margaret Court on this day, very much adds divisiveness of the event. As reported by the New York Times, “Since retiring, Ms. Court’s legacy has been increasingly overshadowed by her intolerant views, and she has alienated many in the tennis world. … [Now] a Pentecostal minister, she has vocally opposed same-sex marriage, compared L.G.B.T.Q. education to the work of the devil and denounced transgender athletes.”
The awarding group, called the Council for the Order of Australia, has ignored the complaints and simply said “In a system that recognizes hundreds of people each year, it is inevitable that each list will include some people who others believe should not be recognized.” That response sounds like a poor excuse, given that the headlines around the sports world report: