Alan Hubbard

Here we go again...another rheumy-eyed rant from an old codger moaning that Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’be.

But there is no disputing this is true about sport, for better or worse. Much, much worse in my view.

When I began scribbling about sport well over half-a-century ago, newspaper editors were happy to confine it to the back pages, or the toy department as some called it.

We wrote about the games people played and those who played them fair and square, not cheats or charlatans. There was the occasional foray into a hard news piece, like a daft footballer getting drunk in a nightclub or the lifting of the maximum wage. Drugs? Stanazolol was but a tinkle in a chemist’s test tube.

Transgender sport? The only trans that concerned us was transfer fees.

But gradually things have exploded until sport lurches into every area of newsprint and television news bulletins - front page, feature pages, financial pages, women’s pages, gossip columns et al. Plus the acres of pages in burgeoning separate sports sections.

Sport has embraced not only multitudes of drugs scandals but every aspect of geo-politics from terrorism to racism. 

Who would have thought back in the day that we would be reading about bridge player being done for drugs?

The world number one, no less.

Norway's world number one-ranked bridge player Geir Helgemo has been banned for doping ©Wikipedia
Norway's world number one-ranked bridge player Geir Helgemo has been banned for doping ©Wikipedia

Geir Helgemo, who is Norwegian but represents Monaco in bridge events, tested positive for synthetic testosterone and female fertility drug clomifene at a World Bridge Series event in Orlando in September. After accepting he had breached anti-doping rules, Helgemo was suspended by the World Bridge Federation,

All his titles, medals and points from the 2018 World Bridge Series have also been revoked and his suspension runs until November 20.

Kari-Anne Opsal, President of the Norwegian Bridge Federation, said the drugs were "not performance enhancing".

In a statement on theFederation’s website, she said: "Geir Helgemo...has previously played for the Norwegian national team and is our biggest star.

"Many within the bridge community know Geir and respect him.

"It is his responsibility not to take substances that are on the doping list, even though in this instance they are not performance enhancing in bridge.

"I feel for Geir in this situation and hope he will come back stronger after 20 November, 2019, when his ban ends."

The WBF is recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and as such abides by World Anti-Doping Agency rules. Bridge was officially recogised as a "mind sport" by the IOC in 1995.

But there’s something odd here. If the drugs were not performing enhancing why did he take them? No explanation has been forthcoming.

Testosterone and a female fertility drug? Surely he isn’t thinking of joining the transgender set? Whatever, bridge maestro Mr Heklgemo does seem a bit if a card.

Brazilian volleyball player Tiffany Abreu is among an increasing number of transgender competitors taking part in women's sport and causing plenty of controversy ©YouTube
Brazilian volleyball player Tiffany Abreu is among an increasing number of transgender competitors taking part in women's sport and causing plenty of controversy ©YouTube

The transgender issue is being increasingly debated in an atmosphere of hostility and acrimony, without too much logic.

It seems simple enough but it is actually extremely complex: Should a woman born as a man, or a man now identifying as a woman, be allowed to compete against other females on a level playing field?

It is not often that I agree with the Piers Morgan, the former newspaper editor, controversial columnist and TV presenter. But he is bang on the button in my opinion when he says it is grotesquely unfair for transgender women to compete in women’s sports, and outrageous for trans people to bully and vilify LGBT heroine Martina Navratilova because of her views.

He writes: "Imagine a scenario where a 25-year-old male player ranked say, No 200 in the world, and earning around $100,000 a year, suddenly decides he wants to identify as female - either for genuine transgender reasons or for duplicitous, fraudulent, cynically commercial reasons - and now wishes to compete against women.

"That player, if he underwent hormonal treatment to reduce his testosterone levels to the required levels, could spend the next 3/4 years playing as a woman on the women’s tour.

"He, now she, would instantly be the best female tennis player that’s ever lived. She would destroy Serena Williams, and every other woman player.

"She would win every major tournament, break every women’s tennis record, and win tens, potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.

"And she would kill women’s tennis forever."

Martina Navratilova recently declared a view that promptly made her the most hated LGBTQ woman in America.

"A man can decide to be female," she wrote in the Sunday Times of London, "take hormones if required by whatever sporting organisation is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he so desires. It’s insane and it’s cheating."

Within hours of the column appearing, Navratilova was dropped as an ambassador for Athlete Ally, a US-based organisation that campaigns for LGBTQ sportspeople. They said her comments "perpetuate dangerous myths".

She was viciously vilified on social media, and accused of being "transphobic".

Yet Navratilova, who herself faced huge amounts of abuse when she courageously came out as gay in 1981, has been one of the loudest and most loyal "allies" to the LGBTQ community for decades. She even hired Renee Richards, the first transgender tennis star, as her coach.

Navratilova later posted a new response to the growing furore, apologising for using the word "cheating" but reiterating her concerns. Good for her.

"I am not trying to exclude trans people from living a fully, healthy life," she said."All I am trying to do is make sure girls and women who were born female are competing on as level a playing field as possible within their sport."

She has been widely supported by other athletes, including former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies who said transgender women should not be permitted to compete in female competitions.

"There is a fundamental difference between the binary sex you are born with and the gender you may identify as," Davies said. "To protect women’s sport, those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport. 

"Every single woman athlete I’ve spoken to, and I have spoken to many, all of my friends in international sports, understand and feel the same way as me. It’s not a transphobic thing. We have no issue with people who are transgender."

Davies was also promptly accused of being a "transphobe" and "sharing hate speech" by transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon who recently became International Cycling Union masters track world champion despite having a vastly superior size advantage - she is 6ft and 200lbs - over female rivals.

In Connecticut, two transgender girl sprinters Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood just demolished all-comers in races in the state’s outdoor championships, running way faster times than the nearest biological female runner.

One of their competitors, Selina Soule, said: "We all know the outcome of the race before it even starts; it’s demoralising."

She was keen to stress that she too is not remotely bigoted towards transgender people. "I fully support and am happy for these athletes for being true to themselves. They should have the right to express themselves in school, but athletics have always had extra rules to keep the competition fair."

In Brazil, Tiffany Abreu, became the first transgender player in the top-flight women’s volleyball league in 2017, after a career as a male.

Her record performances since have enraged some female players. Ana Henkel, a four-time Olympian for Brazil in volleyball and beach volleyball, wrote an open letter to the IOC saying: "This rushed decision to include biological men, born and built with testosterone, with their height, their strength and aerobic capacity of men, is beyond the sphere of tolerance. It represses, embarrasses, humiliates and excludes women."

No doubt I will be put on some sort of hit list alongside Piers Morgan, Martina Navratilova and Sharron Davies. But I know the IOC are determined to be cool, trendy and politically on message these days, yet it is fundamentally wrong to allow transgender folk to compete on level terns with others in the Games.