Martina Navratilova stirred headlines in February with an article criticizing transgender athletes after a series of heated debates on Twitter regarding the eligibility of transgender athletes to participate in sports. As a result, Navratilova was heavily criticized by LGBT advocates and was dumped by several leading organizations including Athlete Ally. Several other prominent athletes, including Sharron Davies had followed in Navratilova’s footsteps and took it as an opportunity to criticize transgender athletes as well. At one point, Navratilova’s statements were cited in a court case attempting to ban transgender students from participating in high school sports.
Navratilova herself attempted to backtrack on the controversy by releasing a follow up statement on her own website stating that she intended to promote discussion and promised to research more into the issue. It appears she is making good on that promise with the upcoming BBC Documentary “Trans Athletes: A Fair Playing Field?”
The documentary was commissioned by BBC One in response to the controversy of Navratilova’s comments as well as the increased visibility and discussion regarding trans athletes in sports. In the documentary, set to premier in late June, Navratilova engages in discussion with athletes, scientists and sports officials on their perspectives on this topic. Some of the people she is interviewing include Dr. Gemma Whitcomb and Dr. Emma O’Donnell at Loughborough University who are sports scientists researching transgender athletes. She also meets with Joanna Harper who is a medical physicist, athlete, and trans woman herself. Harper specializes in research in transgender athletes and reflects on her own experience as an elite athlete who underwent gender transition during her athletic career. Harper explains how her run times had dropped 12% during her transition in 2004.
Navratilova is also interviewing people on the other side of the discussion, including Sharron Davies who has been an outspoken critic of transgender athletes in sports. Most recently, Davies claimed that sports needed to be divided based on chromosome pairings and testing despite gender verification via chromosome testing having been banned from sports since the late 1990s due to the lack of validity and reliability to accurately determine biological sex via chromosomes.
While there isn’t much detail yet about the documentary, Navratilova hopes that it will inspire more people to learn more about this topic. She says…
“I hope that this documentary enables everybody to be more knowledgeable about the overall transgender and sport debate and hopefully brings us closer to a solution that makes as many people as possible happy.”
The documentary is set to air on BBC One sometime at the end of June 2019, likely as part of the Stonewall 50th Anniversary celebrations.
By Dirk Smith