Martina Navratilova has faced a barrage of criticism for her claim that trans athletes are ‘cheats’.
The tennis star made the controversial comments in an article for the The Sunday Times.
She argues trans women assigned male at birth, have an unfair physical advantage over women assigned female at birth.
Navratilova coached by trans athlete
However, Navratilova’s argument falls down, considering she beat the first professional trans tennis player, Renee Richards.
Richards transitioned in 1975, however in 1976 the media outed her after she won a tennis tournament in California.
She subsequently went on to become Navratilova’s coach.
Religious bigot Court refused to play Richards
The controversy around trans tennis players goes back to a famous incident in 1976.
Australian champion, and religious bigot, Margaret Court refused a $1 million offer to play Renee Richards.
Richards’ gender identity attracted the huge dollar amount for the exhibition match.
Furthermore, it was also the reason Court declined to take part.
In a statement, Court’s lawyer said of the proposed match:
“It’s exploitation for somebody and Margaret isn’t about to be exploited or let somebody else be exploited at her behest.”
Richards successfully sued for discrimination
Media reporting at the time reflected people’s prejudice against transgender people.
For example, headlines in the Australian press included: “Miss X or Mr Y?” and, “I’m not a zombie, says Renee”.
One article began: “Renee Richards proved today that a good big man can probably always beat a good little girl at tennis.”
In 1976, the United States Tennis Association banned Richards from taking part in the US Open.
The following year, she sued the United States Tennis Association and the Women’s Tennis Association for discrimination.
Richards won the court case, allowing her to compete as a woman on the professional circuit.
Are testosterone levels the best measure of physical ability?
There is limited scientific research into whether transgender athletes have a physical advantage in women’s sport.
Studies to date show that testosterone levels are an imperfect measure of trans women’s physical ability.
Currently, major sporting bodies like the International Olympic Committee and the Australian Football League are looking at this research.
They hope to create policies that address transgender athletes taking part in their competitions as a result.
Navratilova’s argument flawed
Writing about the issue for ABC News, Associate Professor in History at Australian Catholic University, Doctor Noah Riseman, says Navratilova’s argument is flawed.
“A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation 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.
However, Riseman points out that transgender people do not take the decision to transition gender lightly.
“I have interviewed dozens of transgender and gender-diverse people for my historical research and many of them say their lives reached a choice: either transition or suicide,” he writes.
For example, statistics from the National LGBTI Health Alliance reveal 40 percent of transgender Australians over-18 have experienced suicidal ideation or self-harm.
His article continues:
“Transgender Australians are more than 11 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
“Transgender people risk losing family and friends. Society stigmatises trans people, with regular reports of hate crimes, abuse on public transport and globally high rates of violence and murder.
“The process of changing identity documents can be tedious.
“The idea that someone would put themselves through such mental distress, stigma and medical interventions for a supposed advantage at sporting tournaments — which incidentally they still might not win — shows a complete lack of empathy or understanding of what transgender people confront in their lives.”
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