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SPORT BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE

Hans Westerbeek

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Margaret Court and Marriage Equality

It has taken a while to get started on this blog.... Recently returned from Harvard Business School I have found myself out of time and out of breath! Managed to take in a few NBA finals and baseball games during the rare downtime - saw Lebron play against Isiah, the Red Sox in Boston's Fenway Park and the Yankees in New York. Then, upon descending back down (under) to earth I could not escape the Margaret Court saga on 'boycotting' the flying kangaroo (avoiding to fly with Qantas) because of their pro 'marriage equality' stance. Much has been said about the right to express her views based on religious belief and values. And yes, we are lucky to live in a country and society where we can express our views, as long as we respect the rights of others to disagree and debate the issue. However, given that the focus of my blog is sport business (intelligence), I do feel I have to put forward my views in regard to the sporting arena that carries Margaret Courts' name. This sporting venue is the location of the National Tennis Centre, and host to the Australian Open, one of the truly global annual sporting events. Irrespective of various comments about the tennis prowess displayed by Margaret Court, and this being the primary reason for her being honoured with the naming of a tennis stadium, I must object... Object to the matter that one cannot separate the values and beliefs of a person - the expression of who that person really is - from mere athletic ability, when a building is named after this person. Of course, the reason for naming 'Margaret Court Arena' after a legend of the sport makes sense, but to argue that being a great tennis player stands isolated from the values and beliefs that define the person behind the athlete is nothing short of naive and goes directly against the basic principles of naming rights sponsorships. The very reason that corporations want their name in bright lights on the face of sporting venues is for them to bask in the reflected glory and values that underpin sport - it is all about the power of psychological association and endearment. Having a sporting venue named after you is a marketing path to the hearts and wallets of sport consumers. And so the reverse applies as well. If you plaster the 'brand' of Margaret Court onto a stadium, that stadium will bask in the reflected glory of the athlete. I am acutely aware that Tennis Australia did never intend to sell the values and beliefs of Margaret Court (or Rod Laver for that matter) through naming venues in their honour. The intent indeed was for their tennis achievements to be communicated and celebrated. But it was Margaret Court who decided to speak up about her (religiously inspired) views on marriage equality and disqualify the services of a company that promoted the view that she opposes. That is her right. But taking a stance comes with consequences. Tennis in general, and Melbourne Park and the Australian Open in particular cannot afford to be associated with personally held values that discriminate, that deny equality, and that express views about how people should act and behave and as such, qualify and disqualify. Melbourne Park is a public venue with global reach, a proud history of tennis excellence and a meeting place for global citizens with open minds. The venue can therefore not allow to be limited by the views of a tennis great, whose beliefs unfortunately disqualify some of her fellow human beings from making their own decisions and express their love and vow to their life partners in a ceremony and commitment we call marriage.

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