Tennis great Martina Navratilova has faced a barrage of criticism for her recent claim that trans women athletes are ‘cheats’.
Navratilova made the controversial comments in an article for the the Sunday Times, arguing that trans women who were assigned male at birth, have an unfair physical advantage over women who were assigned female at birth.
Navratilova was coached by a trans player
But Navratilova’s argument rings a little hollow, considering that she was able to beat the first professional trans tennis player, Renee Richards, more than four decades ago.
Richards had transitioned in 1975 and was outed in 1976 after she won a tennis tournament in California.
She would go on to become Navratilova’s coach.
Trans players have been an issue since 1976
The controversy around trans tennis players goes back to a famous incident in 1976, when Australian champion Margaret Court refused a $1 million offer to play against Renee Richards.
The huge dollar amount offered for the exhibition match was because Richards was transgender.
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.
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 have been looking at this research to help create policies that address transgender athletes taking part in their competitions.
Navratilova’s argument based in myth
Writing about the issue for ABC News, Associate Professor in History at Australian Catholic University, Doctor Noah Riseman, claims there is a deeper set of myths about trans women contained within Navratilova’s argument.
“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.
But Doctor 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.
Doctor Riseman points to statistics from the National LGBTI Health Alliance which reveal that over 40 percent of transgender Australians over 18 years old 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,” he continues.
“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.”
What the law says
Miles Heffernan, Litigation Director at Discrimination Claims, said it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on their gender in many aspects of life.
“Certainly when it comes to employment, and the provision of goods and services, and accommodation, you cannot treat someone less favourably because they are transgender,” he said.
“But many sporting bodies have exemptions when it comes to which gender can play their sport – for example, netball associations around the country are legally allowed to ban boys from playing in girls’ teams from the age of 12.
“I think when it comes to sport, whether someone is transgender or not doesn’t really matter – all anybody wants is a fair competition – so hopefully backed by solid scientific research, we will soon have a situation where transgender athletes can compete in their chosen sport as the gender that they identify as in a fair and sporting manner.”
If you have experienced discrimination based on your gender or sexual orientation, you may be entitled to compensation.
Please call our specialist team at Discrimination Claims today on
1300 853 837
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