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Czech Republic’s Martina Navratilova sparks transgender controversy

Martina Navratilova's comments sparked a transgender controversy

Prague, Czech Republic – Czech-born tennis legend Martina Navratilova, considered one of the best female tennis players of all time, has sparked the anger of some LGBT organisations and activists over comments she made about transgender athletes.

Navratilova’s controversial op-ed on transgender athletes

In an op-ed published in British newspaper The Sunday Times on February 17, the 18-time Grand Slam winner wrote that “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”.

She argued that “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”.

A long-time gay rights activist who came out as gay in the early 1980’s, Martina Navratilova married her long-term partner Julia Lemigova in New York in 2014. The Prague-born tennis champion has been taking part in advocacy campaigns with several major organisations since she retired from the tennis court.

Comments slammed as “transphobic” by LGBT rights associations

Athlete Ally, a U.S.-based organisation that defends the right of transgender sportspeople, announced it cut all links with Navratilova following her comments and fired her from its advisory board and dismissed her as an ambassador, a role the former Czech tennis player had been assuming since 2014.

“Martina Navratilova’s recent comments on trans-athletes are transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and perpetuate dangerous myths that lead to the ongoing targeting of trans-people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence”, Athlete Ally said in a statement.

Martina Navratilova married Julia Lemigova in 2014
Martina Navratilova married her long-time partner Julia Lemigova in New York five years ago

Rachel McKinnon, the first transgender woman to win a world track cycling title last year, also said Navratilova’s comments were “disturbing, upsetting and deeply transphobic”.

Gender issues and transgender regulations in sports in the spotlight

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) allows female-to-male transgender athletes to participate without any restrictions. Male-to-female athletes, however, have to comply with some conditions and keep their levels of testosterone below a certain level for a period of 12 months.

This isn’t the first time Navratilova’s positions on gender issues make waves in the sports world. Last year, the 62-year-old Czech tennis star had already sparked controversy after revealing that American tennis champion John McEnroe was paid at least ten times as much as her when both of them were working as sports commentators and pundits for the BBC.

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