Tackling Transphobia in Sport

Image Credit: [Sky Sports]

Martina Navratilova has recently come under fire for an article she wrote in The Times about trans athletes

Martina Navratilova has recently come under fire for an article she wrote in The Times about trans athletes

In recent weeks, tennis legend and former Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova has come under fire for strongly condemning the presence of trans athletes in competitive sport.

Navratilova had previously been considered an advocate of LGBT+ rights, but her recent comments put across a conservative and transphobic view of trans competitors. What exactly did Navratilova say?

Well, that ‘you can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women…it’s insane and it’s cheating’. The tennis star added that she was ‘happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers’ but that she would ‘not be happy to compete against her’. Navratilova’s comments are both offensive to the trans community and factually inaccurate.

The gist of Navratilova’s argument is that trans women are men who transition to become women, thus holding the same physical advantage over women that men do. This is allegedly because trans women have a greater amount of testosterone in their bodies than other women do. Yet, if Navratilova is using this as an argument, she is fundamentally mistaken.

Trans athletes are subject to the same regulation regarding testosterone levels as other women are (as set by the International Olympic Committee). So, trans women do not have a physical advantage over other women in competitive sport. If regulation prevents trans athletes having an unfair advantage over female athletes, then why shouldn’t they compete in the same competitions as each other?

The comments made by Navratilova demonstrate an essentialist understanding of gender and a wilful ignorance of the available science. The former world No. 1 has consequently been removed as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a US-based non-profit organisation which campaigns for greater inclusion of trans people in sport.

Martina Navratilova prefaced her comments with an insistence that she had done her own research before espousing an unapologetically transphobic point of view. Yet, Navratilova knew what she was doing. She decided to voice these comments in a column for The Times, a publication sufficiently transphobic to have inspired a Twitter account called The Transphobic Times (the account highlights articles in which The Times uses transphobic language, which is a lot of articles). I’m sure Navratilova will be championed by those who supposedly rail against political correctness, yet what Navratilova argues against is empirically-based science. She is wrong to do so.