Trans athletes have condemned a recent op-ed by tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who wrote that trans women should not compete against cis women in sex-segregated sports.
Writing in U.K. newspaper The Sunday Times this past weekend, Navratilova says that allowing trans women athletes to compete as women is “insane,” likening it to “cheating.”
“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,” she writes.
Navratilova is widely considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, winning 18 Grand Slam titles and 31 women’s doubles titles before retiring in 2006, so her words hold a lot of sway. She also happens to be LGBTQ+ herself, having come out as a lesbian in 1981.
“It’s insane and it’s cheating. I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair,” Navratilova continues.
Trans athletes have been swift to condemn Navratilova’s writing, Reuters reports.
“[Navratilova’s comments are] disturbing, upsetting, and deeply transphobic,” Rachel McKinnon, a world champion cyclist, told the news organization. “[What she wrote] trades on age-old stereotypes and stigma against trans women, treating us as men just pretending to be real women.”
“This idea that men will transition or pretend to transition to enter women’s sport is offensive,” Natalie Washington, an amateur British footballer, told Reuters. “It misrepresents the huge struggle that the vast majority of trans people have to go through.”
Navratilova’s comments are not only scientifically unsound as even the International Olympic Committee agrees that it’s testosterone that might give athletes an unfair advantage in the game, not genitals or sex assigned at birth, and that can be mitigated through hormone replacement therapy. But they’re also ahistorical, conveniently omitting the time she beat an out trans woman on the court over 40 years ago.
As Australia’s ABC News notes, Navratilova competed against Renée Richards in women’s doubles at the 1977 U.S. Open. Richards, an out trans woman who won the right to play professional women’s tennis after filing a discrimination lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association and the Women’s Tennis Association, lost to Navratilova, who later went on to hire Richards as her coach.
Given Navratilova’s past support of trans women athletes like Richards, it’s disappointing that she would pivot to TERF bullshit in her retirement — especially considering the parallels in states like South Dakota where talking points like Navratilova’s are being used to legislate against trans student athletes.
Update, 3:34 p.m. EST: Athlete Ally, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ+ inclusion in sports, has released a statement condemning Navratilova's views on trans athletes. The organization says that it has removed Navratilova from Athlete Ally's advisory board and stripped her of her position as an Athlete Ally Ambassador.
"Athlete Ally unequivocally stands on the side of trans athletes and their right to access and compete in sport free from discrimination," the statement reads. "Trans athletes have been allowed to openly compete in the Olympics since 2003, and yet no transgender athlete has ever gone to the Olympics. Professional trans women athletes are extremely rare."
"The [LGBTQ+] community is not a monolith," the statement continues. "We must always leave space to learn from one another, and to grow. If we fail to do so, we are not only failing our goal to advance [LGBTQ+] equality as a whole, but failing to live up to the core of our potential as human beings who believe all of us deserve a place in sports and in this world."