Martina Navratilova under fire over transgender athlete comments | News | DW | 20.02.2019
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Martina Navratilova under fire over transgender athlete comments

The former tennis champion has divided the sporting world by saying that allowing trans women to compete with cis women opens the door to cheating. The Athlete Ally sports group removed her from its board in response.

Wimbledon champion and gay rights campaigner Martina Navratilova has been removed from the advisory board of an LGBT sports group after saying that allowing transgender women to compete in the women's category was "insane" and "cheating."

The 18-time Grand Slam Champion made the comments in an article penned for The Sunday Times titled "The Rules on Trans Athletes Reward Cheats and Punish the Innocent." In it, she argued that transgender women have unfair physical advantages over cis women.

"A man builds up muscle and bone density, as well as a greater number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, from childhood," Navratilova wrote.

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Navratilova also claimed that men could take advantage of new International Olympic Committee rules to "earn a small fortune." Regulations adopted by the IOC in 2016 stipulate that transitioning athletes would be allowed to compete in the women's category if they kept testosterone levels below a certain level for 12 months. This means that transgender female athletes no longer need surgery before they can compete.

"To put the argument at its most basic: A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organization is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires," Navratilova wrote.

Read more: Navratilova calls for Margaret Court Arena to be renamed

Athlete Ally cut ties

The LGBT group Athlete Ally announced on Tuesday it had removed Navratilova from its advisory board.

Rachel McKinnon, a trans woman and world champion cyclist, told DW that Navratilova's comments were "disturbing, upsetting and deeply transphobic." 

"She trades on age-old stereotypes and stigma against trans women, treating us as men just pretending to be women," McKinnon said. "Her argument is centered on a fabrication, fantasy and a fiction: She imagines a nonexistent cisgender man who will pretend to be a trans woman, convince a psychologist and a physician to prescribe hormone therapy, undertake the process for legal changer recognition, then wait the minimum 12 months of testosterone suppression required by the current IOC rules, compete, and then change his mind and 'go back to making babies'?

"No such thing has ever happened since the 2003 IOC consensus. No such thing will ever happen. This is an irrational fear of trans women, which is the very definition of transphobia."

Some athletes have come out in support of the tennis star. British swimmer Lizzie Simmonds said she would hate to think of losing out on an Olympic medal to someone who had competed the previous year in the men's event.

Marathon runner Paula Radcliffe also backed Navratilova, saying the transgender rules made a "mockery" of the sports categories.

Navratilova has long been a leading gay rights campaigner and suffered abuse as one of the first big stars to come out in the 1980s. 

Asked about those speaking in defense of Navratilova, McKinnon said most women athletes had no issue with competing against trans women: "It's only a small, very loud minority who oppose us, and who happen to receive a great deal of media coverage." 

Separate stance on Semenya's appeal 

In Sunday's article, Navratilova also threw her weight behind South African 800-meter champion Caster Semenya, highlighting a different case facing the intersex Olympic gold medalist.

On Monday, Semenya appeared before the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge new rules that could force athletes with "abnormally" high testosterone levels to take drugs to lower them in certain events.

"Can it be right to order athletes to take medication?" Navratilova asked. "What if the long-term effects proved harmful? ... I hope she wins."

Read more: South Africans react with anger to leaked reports that athlete is not a woman

nn/msh (Reuters, AFP)

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