Trans sportswomen hit back at Martina Navratilova, after the tennis champion said “it’s insane and it’s cheating” for transgender women to be allowed to compete in women’s sport.
“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,” the 18-time Grand Slam winner Navratilova wrote in The Sunday Times.
Navratilova’s comments are “disturbing, upsetting and deeply transphobic,” said Rachel McKinnon, who in 2018 became the first transgender woman to win a world track cycling title, reigniting a debate over whether trans women have unfair physical advantages in sport.
Under rules brought in by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2016, athletes transitioning from female to male can now participate without restrictions.
Male-to-female competitors must have kept their levels of testosterone, a hormone that increases muscle mass, strength and hemoglobin, which affects endurance, below a certain level for at least 12 months.
Wimbledon champion Navratilova, who has campaigned for gay rights and suffered abuse when she came out in the 1980s, argued trans women have unfair physical advantages.
“A man builds up muscle and bone density, as well as a greater number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, from childhood,” she said.
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Navratilova “trades on age-old stereotypes and stigma against trans women, treating us as men just pretending to be real women,” McKinnon told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Scientific research into trans people in sport is rare. A 2015 study of eight male-to-female trans runners found their race times slowed down to an extent that they retained no advantage over non-trans women.
Jen Wagner-Assali, who finished third to McKinnon in the 35- to 44 year-old category world championship race, argued the Canadian’s victory was not fair. McKinnon said her rival had previously beaten her in 10 of 12 events.
“This idea that men will transition or pretend to transition to enter women’s sport is offensive,” Natalie Washington, a trans activist who plays amateur women’s football in Britain, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“It misrepresents the huge struggle that the vast majority of trans people have to go through.”
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Navratilova expressed support for Caster Semenya, the two-time 800-metre Olympic women’s champion, in her case against the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which is being heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week.
The IAAF introduced a rule in April 2018 that would have forced women with naturally high testosterone levels to take hormone therapy to lower them to compete in track events from 400 metres to one mile, had it not been challenged by her and Athletics South Africa.
Semenya, who was forced to take a gender test when she won the world championship at the age of 18 in 2009, has hyperandrogenism, a condition characterized by higher-than-usual testosterone levels.
“Leaving out sprints and longer distances seems to me to be a clear case of discrimination by targeting Semenya,” Navratilova said.