Martina and the Level Playing Field

This weekend Martina Navratilova wrote a piece about trans people and sport which was published in the Sunday Times. In it she explained the reasons why she thinks it unfair for male-born people to compete against women in sport, a view at which she arrived after researching the science and listening to the people involved. On Twitter there was a massive response to this article, the vast majority of which was positive, in agreement with Martina, and supportive of her speaking out. Many people were grateful that such a high profile sportswoman should come out in support of women’s rights and women’s sports. It was a bit of a love fest all day.

So it was surprising to see the subsequent headline in the Guardian: ‘Martina Navratilova criticised over ‘cheating’ trans women comments’. The article stated that ‘Her comments attracted criticism across social media’. Well, no they didn’t. The Guardian backed up their claim by quoting one trans lobby group and one trans cyclist who had had a previous spat with Martina over the issue. There was no mention of the hundreds, if not thousands, of messages of support and agreement and gratitude, and no counter evidence was allowed to sully the story. Martina’s alleged ‘transphobia’ was the Guardian’s line and they were sticking to it.

A similar story began to become apparent over at the BBC. A discussion on BBC Radio 5 Live was due to feature Nicola Williams of campaign group Fair Play for Women, but the invitation was rescinded on the say-so of the aforementioned trans cyclist, Rachel McKinnon, who refused to debate with Fair Play, and smeared it as a hate group for good measure. A balanced programme was then impossible but it went ahead anyway. There was nobody to counter the broadcaster’s introduction of the subject, which described Martina’s comments as ‘upsetting, disturbing and deeply transphobic’, and there was nobody to defend Martina or women’s sports in general. Martina’s alleged ‘transphobia’ was the story, rather than the issue of fairness for female athletes.

The smearing of Martina Navratilova by two of the UK’s largest national media outlets will surely send a message to other female sportspeople watching on, who might also be concerned about their rights and wondering what they can do about it. If one of the top international sporting heroes of all time is fair game for an outpouring of public name-calling, shaming and misrepresentation in the media, what hope is there for women and girls without her stature? How can any woman involved in sport believe now that she will be listened to and her concerns given a fair hearing? The Guardian and the BBC have damaged the cause of fairness in women’s sport just as Martina sought to flag it up.

There has emerged a pattern of such behaviour where the trans issue is concerned. In very different arenas the same demand, that trans people are the experts on trans issues and nobody else must be allowed to debate, has resulted in the same mistakes being made everywhere. In schools for example, there are experts on education who can speak about rights for all children. But if a trans child is involved then this expertise becomes apparently irrelevant because only a trans person can be the expert on a trans child. In healthcare there are experts similarly shunned as soon as a trans person is involved. In prisons the existing experts are not needed as soon as the debate concerns a trans prisoner. And in sports now it seems that all the expertise in the world, concerning biology, hormones, drugs and all the advances in sports science of the last few decades has to go out of the window as soon as a trans competitor is involved whose feelings may be hurt. The very IOC guidelines were written with the help of a trans athlete, Joanna Harper, giving a trans minority overwhelming influence over women’s sport. These guidelines are now used as ‘proof’ of fairness.

Accumulated areas of knowledge in many walks of life are currently being dismissed in favour of trans ideology. In schools, prisons and women’s services for example, the rule book is being thrown out when trans people’s needs are on the table, as if all other knowledge save that of trans people themselves ceases to be relevant. Experiential knowledge of what it means to be trans is not so much being added to existing expertise, but is in many cases replacing it. Apart from being unfair on other people with needs and rights, this is unfair on trans people themselves. Trans people are human too and there is more to them than their trans status. Becoming trans does not take away, for example, a sense of fairness, competition and sportsmanship. Do trans people really not value fairness in sport? It benefits everyone, trans people included, to have strict rules around competition which are enforced for everyone. A trans sportsperson is still a sportsperson.

As one of the most successful and revered sportspeople of either sex, you would think Martina Navratilova would know a thing or two about sport. Her knowledge and experience should surely give weight to her opinions, and lend some seriousness to how they are analysed. The fact that trans extremists have been able to influence both the Guardian and the BBC in their coverage of the story, to the point where this expert of all experts should be dismissed with such a lack of respect, should give us pause for thought. Which other institutions are also currently being bullied into submission by the trans lobby, and which other areas of expertise are also being shunned to the detriment of the very people who need them?

The fact that the extreme views of a very small minority of people have been allowed to gain such traction in public life has ensured that, in the contest between Martina Navratilova and Rachel McKinnon, Martina was never going to be competing on a level playing field.