Dame Kelly Holmes has become the latest star to be dragged into the row on transgender athletes competing in women’s events.
The Olympic gold medal winner supports a campaign that insists women are at a clear disadvantage against trans competitors.
A string of top sports stars have backed the movement, including Sharron Davies, Martina Navratilova and Paula Radcliffe. Dame Kelly has publicly backed swimmer Miss Davies, who said ‘those with a male sex advantage should not be able to compete in women’s sport’.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Dame Kelly Holmes has been criticised and branded as transphobic for saying that there was a problem in trying to create certain equalities in sports
But the 48-year-old athlete faced a furious backlash from trans competitors who branded her ‘transphobic’ – and called for her sponsors to withdraw support.
In an extraordinary spat on Twitter, Dame Kelly hit back, saying it was ‘ridiculous’ to accuse her of intolerance.
She said the issue had ‘nothing to do with being transphobic and nothing to do with hatred or stopping people leading their lives as they wish’ but said it was a different matter in sport ‘for obvious reasons’.
The row began when Rachel McKinnon, a championship-winning transgender cyclist, said Dame Kelly’s views were ‘transphobic’ and asked her sponsors – Specialized and Garmin UK – if they would be taking action.
Dame Kelly was responding to a tweet by Good Morning Britain in support of Martina Navratilova who had suggested that trans women who competed in women’s sports were ‘cheating’ because of a biological advantage
Trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon calls out Holmes’ sponsors Garmin and Specialized for supporting and suggests they drop her for not holding the same values
McKinnon, who also has academic pursuits, is one of a few transgender world champions across the sporting world. She achieved a 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling gold medal at a competition in Los Angeles
She wrote on Twitter: ‘So hey Specialized and Garmin have you been following how your athlete Kelly Holmes has been extremely transphobic lately on Twitter?’ She added: ‘Specialized, you have a trans athlete. Garmin, you cool with this?’
Miss McKinnon urged the companies to ‘take a stand’ as Dame Kelly was ‘trying to ban trans women from competing in women’s sport’ in breach of International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy.
Miss McKinnon has argued that since IOC rules introduced in 2003 allowed trans women to compete, ‘not a single trans athlete has even qualified for the Olympics, let alone won a medal’.
Holmes responded to the criticism by saying she felt strongly about competitive sports, and wanted evidence there was no disadvantage before she would back down
Cycling specialists Specialized said it would investigate Dame Kelly’s comments, posting on Twitter: ‘Thanks for flagging this, Rachel. This is not representative of our brand values.’
Dame Kelly, who won gold in the 800m and 1,500m running events in the 2004 Olympics, hit back – telling Miss McKinnon that involving her sponsors was ‘going about this in the wrong way’. In a tweet, she questioned why she had been blocked by a fellow athlete ‘if this subject is open to debate’.
She added: ‘Calling me transphobic is just ridiculous – far from it. I have an opinion you don’t like… that’s that!’
Dame Kelly has lent her support to the Fair Play for Women campaign, which insists that female athletes are at a clear disadvantage against trans rivals.
Tennis star Miss Navratilova has already clashed with Miss McKinnon in a row over male-born transgender athletes competing against biological women, branding it ‘cheating’.
The Wimbledon champion and LGBT campaigner deplored the ‘tyranny’ of transgender activists who ‘denounce anyone who argues against them’.
Miss Navratilova – who faced abuse and prejudice after coming out as gay in 1981 – accused Canadian Miss McKinnon of sending ‘bullying tweets’, and said her views had now ‘strengthened’.
Long distance runner Miss Radcliffe has said tighter rules need to be applied if transgender women are to compete. IOC guidelines say transgender women must suppress testosterone levels for at least 12 months before they compete.
She told the BBC: ‘People will manipulate this if there is an opening there to make money and win medals and we’ve seen the lengths people go to, the lengths Russia went to cheat in sport.’
Sharron Davies: ‘It’s just a case of biology’
Sharron Davies says the argument about trans women competing in female events is simply a matter of ‘biology’.
The former Olympic swimmer, 56, claimed it was unfair to compete against those ‘who were born into a male body with all the advantages that will bring’.
She told Radio 4’s Today programme that simple biology meant a transgender competitor would have a better ‘red blood cell count, increased lung capacity, better hand-eye co-ordination, longer limbs, denser bones, leaner muscle, bigger hearts’.
Miss Davies, pictured, added: ‘Take swimming. Michael Phelps has got size 15 feet, your average female has size five or six feet, so if we were to move a man into swimming they would totally dominate all the women’s events.’