Former tennis players, Navralitova and Billie Jean King, in the crowd
Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King attend day twelve of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 14, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage )

Navratilova's 'cheating' op-ed sparks outrage, discussion on transgender athletes

Martina Navratilova (left) and Billie Jean King attend the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, seated behind the royal box and in 2018.  King has given qualified support of Navratilova after Navratilova was pilloried for saying transitioned athletes competing against women was "cheating."  (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage )

A prominent LGBTQ sports advocacy group has cut ties with Martina Navratilova, 18 time Grand Slam winner, after she expressed controversial opinions on transitioning male-to-female athletes.

The group Athlete Ally has dropped trailblazing out athlete Martina Navratilova for her comments about transitioned athletes competing against women, exposing rifts in the LGBTQ community

In December, Navratilova tweeted that male-to-female transgenders competing in women’s sports is “cheating” because of an unfair physical advantage. She followed up her tweets with an op-ed in the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times on Feb. 17, reaffirming what she had tweeted.

Athlete Ally responded to Navratilova’s tweets and op-ed by calling them, “transphobic, based on a false understanding of science and data, and (perpetuating) dangerous myths that lead to ongoing targeting of trans people through discriminatory laws, hateful stereotypes and disproportionate violence.”

The organization has a history of advocating for equality in sports regardless of sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression. Prior to her removal as an ambassador, Navratilova advocated for them and was honored with the group’s first action award in 2014.  

Tennis legend Billie Jean King took a more conciliatory tone, tweeting to let science figure out the debate.

Most were shocked by Navratilova’s stance not only because of her work for the LGBTQ community but also because she herself came out in 1981. Her coming out was not seamless. She lost millions in endorsements and overcame extensive criticism, which she then used to drive her advocacy for athletes showing their sexuality.

Cyclist Rachel McKinnon, who was born biologically male but transitioned to female in her 20s, tweeted in response to Navratilova by saying, “it’s a wild fantasy worry that is an irrational fear of something that doesn’t happen. An irrational fear of trans people? Transphobia.”

Trans Actual UK, a rights advocate group in the United Kingdom, also showed disdain to Navratilova’s stance on male-to-female transgenders in sports. They tweeted, “We’re pretty devastated to discover that Martina Navratilova is transphobic. If trans women had an advantage in sport, why aren’t trans women winning gold medals left, right [and] center?”

This is not Navratilova’s first time receiving backlash on her views on transgender people’s participation in sports. However, after her last incident she claimed to have done research that “strengthened” her viewpoint.


Lauren Chiangpradit is a junior sports journalism major at Arizona State University