February 14, 2024 - 5:40pm

The idea of fairness in sport is difficult to oppose. We’ve all seen pictures of strapping blokes towering over women on podiums, grinning as they steal female records. It’s quite a problem, if your purpose is to promote the idea that men should be able to do whatever they like, including invading the women’s category in sports. 

The answer, as a national newspaper has just demonstrated, is twofold. First of all, you need to deflect, insisting this isn’t really about sport at all. It’s actually about a much more sinister goal, moving from sport to a “sunlit horizon in which… trans people can be legislated out of existence entirely”, according to sports writer Jonathan Liew in the Guardian

Who knew? It begins with an innocent-sounding campaign about a 5km fun run and heads inexorably towards — I don’t know, but it sounds incredibly serious. One minute women are demanding that men should be excluded from holding female records in parkrun, the next they’ll be demanding total trans erasure. 

If that sounds a bit iffy — never fear. Liew isn’t actually blaming the women who’ve raised the issue politely, week after week. No, apparently, women’s anger is “being whipped up and exploited by malign actors, the media and politicians on the reactionary right, to advance causes that go well beyond the remit of women’s sport”. 

He’s so pleased with this smear — sorry, obviously I should have said “argument” — that he doubled down with a post on X: ‘a mysterious right-wing think-tank takes an abrupt interest in Parkrun. useful idiots in the media do their bidding. now, this thing that hardly anyone cared about before has grown into a sinister campaign,’ Liew wrote. 

The only evidence for this calumny is a report from a Right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange, criticising Parkrun for allowing trans-identified men to compete with women. The notion that feminists, many of whom are on the Left, take direction from Policy Exchange is laughable. 

But then commentators, not least of all JK Rowling, quickly pointed out that Liew has form, previously imagining a world in which all women’s sporting records are taken by trans-identified men. “Why would that be bad?” he asked in the Independent. “Imagine the power of a trans child or teenager seeing a trans athlete on the top step of the Olympic podium. In a way, it would be inspiring”’. Not if you’re a woman, it wouldn’t — and I have a sneaking suspicion about who is being erased here. 

Sadly, the Guardian appears to have a limitless appetite for publishing this kind of nonsense. If I was told, 20 years ago, that the Guardian would one day become a cheerleader for a profoundly misogynist ideology, I would not have believed it. I would have said that its pioneering women’s page had been edited by journalists of the calibre of Mary Stott and Jill Tweedie. 

Not anymore. Women are transphobic, according to some of the paper’s most prominent writers, merely by existing and insisting that biology matters. How have the mighty have fallen.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.