This all started with some things Margaret said, with a lot of people who disagreed with her and with an idea, posted on a women’s tennis fan forum: to wear rainbow ribbons on the Australian Open’s biggest show court named after the tennis legend, the Margaret Court Arena to protest her outdated and harmful views on gay people because “homophobia is not ok.”
I loved the idea. At first Mark, a UK fan on Tennis Forum, and I tried to tweet the players and asked them to retweet the idea, so their fans would know about it. Only a few did. Most were reluctant, I believe, as they didn’t know what this was about and how support for this would be perceived by their fans and fellow players.
The idea gained momentum when I tweeted two Twitter bloggers and pointed the idea out to @Fortydeucetwits, writer for Forty Deuce and Sports Illustrated’s Beyond The Baseline and Tennis Channel journalist @JamesLaRosa. They RTed the link to the Tennis Forum thread and soon the idea was known in the small world of tennis journalism.
Katie from the US set up the Facebook page around Christmas. I became one of the admins for the page. A week before I boarded my plane to Melbourne the “Rainbows over Margaret Court Arena” Facebook page had 80 likes. Then Australians Doug Pollard of Melbourne’s Joy 94,9 and Ivan stepped up, began promoting the idea down under and Mark and I got some important RTs on Twitter (Boris Becker, Jennifer Saunders and Andy Murray’s dog Maggie May) and suddenly we had 400. When I stepped off the plane in Melbourne after 30 hours traveling and checked the site again we had over 1.000 likes. That was on Sunday, 15th.
The media blew up the idea into a protest organization. Suddenly I was an organizer, and they kept asking me about riots and how many people we’d expect. I could only say I don’t know how many people there would be, or if any. And I kept saying, no, I don’t think there will be riots. There is no organization, there is no master plan. There are just a few people who think this is a wonderful idea and who are scattered around the world and try to make this happen via Twitter and Facebook.
There were no riots, there were no protesters marching through the Australian Open, just some people who kept flying flags. Tennis fans who happened to be gay or straight and who supported the idea. I think me and some guys on the other side of MCA were the only ones with flags during the first two days of the AO. Was it distracting people from the tennis? I don’t think so. I honestly believe that constant Russian commenting during points on some TV steams is more distracting from the tennis than what we did with our flags. (I don’t mean you, Sveta! Keep on tweeting!)
So, first I thought that the media would make it look like a failure after blowing up the expectation of protests and riots. Nevertheless no flag was shown on TV, there were no photos besides ours of our peaceful protest. It was completely censored by the Australian Open and the media. Instead Australian newspapers reported about a “hate campaign” against Margaret Court. Correction, Margaret, it’s not about you. But this is about equal rights and fighting homophobia. And it’s about love and the fact that for us marriage is not just about a man and a woman. Marriage is what you make of it.
Yes, there were a few people who demanded the name’s court to be changed, but that’s not what “Rainbows Over MCA” stands for. We respect Court’s achievements as a tennis legend. No one can take that away from her and she deserves a court named after her (just as Evonne Goolagong. Just sayin’…). But we should be able to disagree with her and make our opinion and perspective known in a peaceful protest.
Within every grassroots movement there is not one opinion but many. And perhaps there were expectations to have this bigger and more powerful than it turned out. We also hoped for more involvement of Tennis Australia and the Australian Open to endorse the idea and fly a flag of their own, especially after they issued a statement in which they distanced themselves from Margaret Court’s religious beliefs and her words directed against LGBT people and their right for marriage equality. But if you take a closer look at the statement you will find that Tennis Australia only quoted the WTA when it came to equality and ruling out discrimination.
Over the last two weeks the idea evolved to make “Rainbows Over MCA” not only a positive statement for gay rights and marriage equality (please read Martina Navratilova’s open letter to Margaret Court) but to demand Tennis Australia to embrace the diversity that is present in the tennis sport including gay people. Let’s start with signing this petition! It’s not a secret that there are a lot of gay players in the ATP and WTA and that their way of life is being censored and their voices are hushed when it comes to their personal life because of – dare I say it? – money.
They seem to forget that there are a lot of gay tennis fans who are willing to pay money to see the tennis. Also, I have talked to a lot of (straight) tennis fans. Guess what? They don’t care. Real fans, the ones who go to tournaments, the ones that get up in the middle of the night to cheer for a player in front of their TVs, they do that for the tennis. They respect the players for the hard work they put into achieving their goals and they love them for the game.
If you can go on and on about a certain dropshot or a cross-court forehand or a beautiful backhand down the line, you probably don’t care about what that certain player does after the match and with whom. Maybe that’s a bit naïve and I know there are still enough people out there who hate gay people (that’s why we were there with our rainbow flags in the first place) but this is 2012 and there have been changes since Martina and Billy Jean came out in 1980.
It’s time that the tennis world and its sponsors arrive in the 21st century and embrace diversity and honor their gay athletes by backing them up and giving them the opportunity to openly live their life and on the other hand give young people the chance to have gay role models while they are playing competitively.
If Margaret Court and people like her hope that the end of this year’s Australian Open is the end of Rainbows Over MCA, let us tell there is no end to a rainbow and the pot of gold is right here:
Love all, to speak in tennis terms.