Margaret Court, once the world’s number one female tennis player, well-known for her anti-gay views, has sparked a heated row with other former champions after saying gays were “aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take.”

Martina Navratilova said Australian Court had failed to “evolve” with the rest of society. She has also drawn condemnation from one-time rival Billie Jean King.

Court, now 69, was ranked first in the world at the peak of her professional career in the 1960s and 70s.

She is now pastor at the recently-established Victory Life Church in Perth, which claims to teach congregants how to be “victorious” in life.

She told media in Australia: “To dismantle this sole definition of marriage and try to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices that include sodomy, reveals our ignorance as to the ills that come when society is forced to accept law that violates their very own God-given nature of what is right and what is wrong.

“The fact that the homosexual cry is, ‘We can’t help it as we were born this way’, as the cause behind their own personal choice is cause for concern.

“Every action begins with a thought. There is a choice to be made.”

But the gay former tennis stars, whom Court has provoked in the past by saying they were ruining the sport and setting a bad example, have hit back, with Navratilova telling TennisChannel.com: “Seems to me a lot of people have evolved, as has the Bible. Unfortunately, Margaret Court has not.

“Her myopic view is truly frightening as well as damaging to the thousands of children already living in same-gender families.

“I have tried to talk to Margaret but to say she’s completely close-minded on the issue is an understatement.”

King added that she “respectfully disagreed” with Court.

She said: “We have to commit to eliminating homophobia because everyone is entitled to the same rights, opportunities and protection.”

A poll last year found tennis to be the most gay-friendly sport in eyes of LGBT people.

Sixty-five per cent of the 700 people surveyed by Stonewall said they thought tennis was the most welcoming sport to gay fans and players.

Court’s comments came after Australia’s ruling Labor Party recently voted to endorse marriage equality.