The trans threat to women’s sport is no joke

Comic Hannah Gadsby has exposed her staggering ignorance of what’s at stake in the gender wars.

Jo Bartosch

Jo Bartosch

Topics Identity Politics Sport UK

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Comedian Hannah Gadsby and I have something in common, and it’s not our bad hair or sapphic tendencies. It seems neither of us really ‘get’ sport.

Earlier this week, a clip went viral on X from Gadsby’s Netflix special, Hannah Gadsby’s Gender Agenda, which was released in March. The comedienne, who identifies as nonbinary and goes by they / them pronouns, guffawed as she told her audience: ‘It’s adorable how all of a sudden so many men are really concerned about women’s sport.’ She professed to be confused as to why the public might care that third-rate male athletes are forcing their way into women’s sporting categories.

Gadsby also mocked the idea that ‘men are transitioning to become women so they can dominate women’s sports’. Presumably, the girls and women who dedicate their lives to training, only to be beaten by boys and men, simply need to lighten up and get a sense of humour.

Gadsby is not alone in downplaying the trans threat to women’s sport. Also on her team is the recently appointed head of BBC Sport, Alex Kay-Jelski. A 2019 article he wrote for The Times, where he was then sports editor, resurfaced on social media this week. In it, he criticised tennis legend Martina Navratilova and former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies for campaigning to protect women-only categories in sport.

He wrote that while Navratilova and Davies ‘are important, influential voices’, they ‘are not experts’. He glibly dribbled on to conclude that the presence of trans-identified athletes in women’s sport ‘is not a huge problem’. The piece also compared the idea of having separate categories for trans athletes to having ‘special categories for Jamaican sprinters and Ethiopian marathon runners’. In essence, he was suggesting that having separate sporting categories for women and men is akin to racism.

Thankfully, this did not go unchallenged. Navratilova responded sarcastically on X to say: ‘Once again, good to know that men apparently know what women like myself and Sharron [don’t know] about biology and sports etc. Just amazing to be this confident, no?’

The sheer audacity of both Gadsby and Kay-Jelski is simply astounding. Allowing men to compete with women on the basis of their ‘gender identity’ is an insult to athletes and fans, not to mention the whole of womankind. When it comes to strength and endurance, testosterone is a performance-enhancing drug. As a review last year by charity Women in Sport concluded, ‘There are apparent life-long physiological advantages in the adult male’. These cannot be overcome, even with the suppression of testosterone levels.

To take just one example, 9,000 men have run the 100 metres faster than Florence Griffith Joyner, the female 100-metres world-record holder. The chances of an elite female athlete outperforming an elite male athlete by willpower are astronomically slim. Men and women have totally different bodies with different capabilities. Given this, male athletes who attempt to game the system by identifying their way into women’s categories deserve the same sort of scorn as is reserved for those who use other performance-enhancing drugs. Whether such men genuinely believe themselves to be women is irrelevant. They are cheats.

Yet some male athletes refuse to be ashamed. The prospect of easy wins, scholarships and prize money is too alluring. From the hulking 6’1’’ male swimmer Lia Thomas to 46-year-old Olympic weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, men are forcing their way into women’s changing rooms, pushing female competitors off podiums and waltzing off with trophies meant for women. Meanwhile, talented women like Roviel Detenamo, who was robbed of her rightful place in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by Hubbard, are dismissed as collateral damage in the fight for so-called trans equality.

The ignorance of Kay-Jelski and Gadsby is the default for the cultural elite. Smug in their bubble of right-thinkers, they can sneer at the plebs who dare to recognise biology is real. Both of them have the luxury of practically ignoring sex differences. As a comedian, Gadsby is free to pretend that she is nonbinary, despite her female body, without it significantly impacting her career. As a sports journalist, Kay-Jelski can sit behind a keyboard on equal footing with women – though notably, he chose a female surrogate when starting a family.

Sport might leave me cold. But robbing other women of their passion, and then mocking them for caring about that, is just plain cruel. To deny women the opportunities afforded by fair competition is to deny women our full humanity. And as much as she likes to pretend otherwise, Hannah Gadbsy is still a woman. She might be laughing now, but she may soon find that the joke will be on her.

Jo Bartosch is a journalist campaigning for the rights of women and girls.

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Topics Identity Politics Sport UK


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