Although it’s always been intrinsic to the Great British Summer, it’s nonetheless still going to take time getting used to the return of Wimbledon next week after two years’ away. Politicians and media types may well be doing their utmost to convince us things are all-but normal again, but those of us at street level know this is bullshit. The resumption of annual events in the sporting calendar is, I suppose, a good way of projecting the illusion of normality, though it’ll be interesting to survey the composition of Centre Court a fortnight from now to see how many empty seats there are and how many of those filled are filled by punters looking like they’re poised to perform a surgical operation; that’s not normal, and let’s not pretend otherwise. Anyway, after a cancelled 2020, a regular viewer of the drama at the All-England Club such as yours truly will have to reacquaint himself with the stars of the sport now that many of the names that have dominated tennis for the last couple of decades have either hung up their racquets or are nearing game, set & match for good.
Having experienced something of a Golden Age over the last 20 years, the men’s game seems to be in something of an uncertain interregnum at the moment, with no real eye-catching challengers to the ageing triumvirate of titans who aren’t yet being edged off the court in the way they surely should be by now. In the past, when the chaps seemed to be going through the motions, I often turned to the women’s game; it was far more entertaining to tune into the girls during the deadly dull Pete Sampras era, though I’d be hard-pressed to name more than three or four top women players at the moment. Perhaps it’s time to relax the rules a little, to place tennis in line with other sports that have decided possession of a vagina is no longer a prerequisite to compete in women’s events; if one’s testosterone level is low enough, you’re in, luv. An apparently average weightlifter who goes by the name of Laurel Hubbard struggled to shine when competing against his fellow fellers – until he decided to declare himself a lady in 2012 and his/her career suddenly took off; Hubbard has now been selected to represent New Zealand in the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics.
Let’s be honest – it would have to be one of the English-speaking nations to have taken this unprecedented step; after all, only the Anglosphere appears to have bought into this bullshit. Watching the opening moments of the delayed Euro 2020 tournament, what a relief it was to be spared a visual lecture when the Italy and Turkey teams responded to the referee’s whistle by kicking off the game rather than striking a pose implying they were about to ask for each other’s hands in marriage. The mother tongue of Planet Woke is English – sad but true. When the FA proclaimed in no uncertain words that anyone booing the taking of the knee was racist, the participating teams from mainland Europe must have rolled their eyes along with the majority of football fans in this country. The first England fixture at Wembley saw the usual misguided virtue-signalling entered into, yet the fact the Croatia players didn’t follow suit made England’s insistence on slavishly sticking to the pose look even more stupid. And fans booed, of course. Maybe they’d just come to watch some sport as opposed to a party political broadcast.
Anyway, the presence of a ‘Transgender’ athlete in Tokyo will be, I guess, viewed as another victory for the Identitarian crusade as the politicisation of sport continues unimpeded. It’s interesting that the first sport affected by this issue to fall under the global spotlight is one notorious for the less…er…feminine attributes of its participants. Those of us old enough to have memories of Iron Curtain countries participating in Olympic events, when the likes of the GDR entered female athletes so pumped-up with performance-enhancing chemicals that many of them were more masculine than the athletes competing in the male event, won’t be surprised that weightlifting has led the way in the bending of biological qualification. Apparently, the IOC guidelines specify that surgery is not necessary as long as a transgender athlete’s testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per litre for a full year; this doesn’t appear to take into account the standard female levels of testosterone average between 0.3 and 2.4 nanomoles per litre, suggesting there is immediately an advantage for male competitors competing against female ones. And that’s not even mentioning all those aspects of physical male development from puberty, those of height, weight, muscle and bone density – which non-surgery transgender types still carry – that make a man (whether or not he decides he’s now a woman) a far stronger individual than any natural-born woman.
There are many sports whose sex-segregation has always seemed to me like a hangover from another era, ones I often feel should be open for men and women to compete against each other on a level playing field – golf, for example; or snooker; or darts; maybe even Formula One. None of these are exclusively dependent on physical strength, a quality that will always give a man advantage over a woman. If female jockeys can compete against their male counterparts – and win, as was demonstrated at this year’s historic Grand National – I don’t really see why the sexes should be divided in any of the specific sports mentioned. In the more athletic events that emphasise the physical prowess of the participants, however – and the headline-grabbing ones at the Olympic Games tend to be these – women’s sport is in danger of being reduced to a laughing stock. By all accounts, the moving of the goalposts in track & field at high-school level in the US has resulted in a predictable success rate for boys identifying as girls; the actual girls are naturally a bit miffed by this, seeing potential paths to Olympic glory being suddenly blocked by blokes. So much for Girl Power.
New Zealand’s transgender hero (heroine?) Laurel Hubbard is 43-years-old; I suspect he/her wouldn’t have got anywhere near selection for Tokyo in his/her former guise, yet the fact a competitor in their early 40s has got there at the expense of a genuine female weightlifter in her 20s highlights the farcical nature of allowing past-it men to take this backdoor route to the Olympics and depriving women in their prime of the opportunity in the process. Does that seem like a fair example of the Olympian ideal, let alone a triumph for feminism? Of course, weightlifting being an individual – as opposed to team – event means we have yet to see the extreme ludicrousness of this trend, though it’s only a matter of time. I can’t help thinking of the Python sketch in which John Cleese plays a brain-dead, knuckle-head boxer whose big fight comes against a little girl in pigtails (played by Connie Booth); the fight itself basically consists of Cleese repeatedly flooring his hapless opponent with one simple punch over and over again.
When tennis legend Martina Navratilova spoke out against what was happening, she was exposed to the full force of trans-activist trolldom, which just goes to show even someone who arguably did more to raise the level of athletic excellence in women’s sport than anyone before or since – and did a hell of a lot to forward the cause of gay people in sport, lest we forget – is not immune to being shouted down and silenced. A separate transgender category in sport would seem a fair compromise, though would this enable Laurel Hubbard to grab gold? Any TV sports presenter or commentator confronted by the sight of the New Zealander strutting his/her stuff with the weights in Tokyo will probably feel as though they’re commentating on a state funeral, over-mindful of not saying the wrong thing or making light of the sight for fear of being delivered their P45 the following day. So they will have to pretend this is just, like, normal – as will the team covering Wimbledon when greeted by half-empty stands peppered with masked punters sat in isolation from one another. As Jimmy Greaves used to say, it’s a funny old game.
© The Editor