Artillery Row

The shame of BBC Sport

The BBC threatens to report gender critical women to the police

Laurel Hubbard is a woman. If you don’t believe so, you’re a bigot and should be reported to the police for hate crime.

That was the message BBC Sport tweeted to its 9.3 million followers yesterday evening in response to criticism of its gushing profile on the 43-year-old male New Zealand weightlifter. 

As it happens, Hubbard failed all his lifts yesterday. But the issue here is bigger than Hubbard, bigger even than the issue of men taking part in women’s sports. It’s about the infantilisation of debate by our national public broadcaster, and its threats against women for the crime of speaking up for their rights.

First, the context. On Sunday, the BBC Sport website published one of the longest, most uncritical profiles of a sportsperson that we can remember seeing. Running to over 3,000 words and headlined Laurel Hubbard: The reluctant history-maker at the centre of sport’s transgender debate, the article is a masterpiece of mistruth and equivocation.

Perhaps it was too much to expect the BBC to correctly identify Hubbard’s sex. What we got instead, however, was linguistic nonsense about how he “lived as a man for the first three decades of her life”, as if being male is merely a matter of what clothes you wear, rather than a biological fact conferring significant sporting advantage.

This was followed by several paragraphs of unalloyed praise for Hubbard’s bravery in trailblazing a new frontier for mediocre men. Strangely, though, the profile found no space to mention Hubbard’s privileged or criminal history. Hubbard’s father, the former Mayor of Auckland, is the billionaire founder of Hubbard Foods. Of course, it’s not a crime to have a wealthy and well-connected parent. But when in 2018 Laurel drove his car into a pensioner who required major spinal surgery and months of rehabilitation, the judge ruled that his name be suppressed for several months to “avoid the distress of dealing with social media comment while she [sic] trained for Olympic qualifying events”. One can only wonder if Hubbard père had any influence on that decision. 

Unsurprisingly, the article did not go down well on social media

Another interesting nugget not mentioned by the BBC was that in 2012 Laurel was appointed Executive Officer for Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand — the same year he began his transition. 

We don’t mention this to anathematise Hubbard. Like all of us, he is a complex and flawed human being. But instead of presenting him as a fully-rounded character, the BBC has chosen to airbrush away anything that spoils his narrative of brave unimpeachability.

It was in the “science” section, however, that the article crossed from puffery to pure propaganda. It starts by saying “The process of transitioning from male to female [no such thing is possible] in itself significantly reduces testosterone, and studies [none are linked to] have shown this impacts athleticism and strength.” This intentionally anti-scientific language — “lived as a man”, “transitioned from male to female” — is straight out of the gender Newspeak dictionary. Moreover, it completely ignores that the prime advantage of testosterone is conferred during male puberty.

It then quotes the medical and scientific director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who admits that while males do have a physical advantage over females, “there are so many other factors to take into account [none are given] … the threat to women’s sports is probably overstated.”

Instead of acknowledging the criticism, the BBC said they would report people’s comments

While two experts are then given a few sentences to explain why males are physically stronger than females regardless of their identity or testosterone levels, further space is given to another disingenuous commentator, themselves trans, who states: “We don’t know for certain whether transgender women are pound for pound stronger than cis gender women. That’s something that hasn’t been determined yet. It’s possible, but it’s not clear.” It then quoted gender medicine specialist James Barrett, who compared the idea that males have an advantage over females to arguments that women shouldn’t have the vote. Barrett then made the bizarre claim that because the transgender (male) cyclist Rachel McKinnon has so far only won one world championship, “it isn’t obvious that being trans women athletes confers advantage.”

Unsurprisingly, the article did not go down well on social media. At the time of writing, over 1,200 people have replied to the BBC’s original tweet, seemingly all of them critical. “It’s the BBC’s biased reporting which really annoys people,” said one. “Why can’t you discuss these matters fairly and objectively like you used to?” Another wrote, “Even when the evidence is right in front of the BBC, such as mixed relays in Olympic swimming & triathlon where elite women are absolutely no match for elite men, the BBC comically claims evidence of male advantage over women is unproven.”

And here’s where things get really sinister. Instead of acknowledging the criticism, the BBC replied to its own tweet, saying: “We will block people bringing hate to our comments section. We will report the most serious cases to the relevant authorities.”

Framing your opponents as hateful is the politics of the kindergarten. Those of us involved in the debate are used to this tactic from teenage transactivists; to see our public national broadcaster enforce gender ideology by threatening police action is, however, quite astounding. Not only is this a gross abuse of its nationwide platform and a grotesque insult to all those pointing out inaccuracies in the BBC’s reporting; it is also entirely deaf to a conversation that has for the last few years been taking place across the UK, Europe, the world — and even on the BBC itself.

Martina Navratoliva’s documentary can no longer be watched

Two years ago Martina Navratoliva presented an hour-long BBC documentary exploring whether transwomen retained a physical advantage over women. It was a carefully balanced, scientifically rigorous, and genuinely courageous piece of public service broadcasting — the BBC at its best. But it was only featured on iPlayer for a few days after broadcast, and remains unavailable today. 

We can only guess why the BBC has chosen to keep Martina’s documentary in the vault at a time when the world is hungry for the facts. If they are ashamed of having made a real contribution to public understanding of fairness in sport, so be it.

But in threatening to report this perceived “hate” to the police, the BBC should be aware of the gravity of what it is doing: smearing women for expressing disgust at the loss of their sports, and threatening them with criminalisation for having the temerity to say, truthfully, that Laurel Hubbard is a man. If Auntie is bent on making an enemy of its own audience, its end — surely and sadly — cannot be far away. 

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