JK Rowling has today slammed the BBC and it’s new director of sport Alex Kay-Jelski after he allegedly blocked Martina Navaratilova on social media and said she was not an expert on trans athletes.

The Harry Potter author branded the broadcaster’s new chief ‘unbelievable’ and called the corporation’s coverage of women’s rights and gender issues ‘shameful.’

She hit out at Mr Kay-Jelski after tennis legend Navaratilova called him ‘pathetic’ when an article he wrote about trans competitors in sport was re-circulated online yesterday.

In the 2019 article for The Times, Mr Kay-Jelski, who takes up the role of top sports boss at the corporation this month, had claimed that while Ms Navratilova was an ‘important’ and ‘influential’ voice on the issue, she and former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies were not ‘experts’.

The piece had also compared the idea of having separate categories for trans athletes with having ‘special categories for Jamaican sprinters and Ethiopian marathon runners’. He wrote: ‘Sounds mad doesn’t it? Nasty, even. Indeed.’

JK Rowling (pictured) hit out at the BBC 's new director of sport Alex Kay-Jelski after he said Martina Navratilova and Sharron Davies were 'not experts' on trans athletes in female events

JK Rowling (pictured) hit out at the BBC ‘s new director of sport Alex Kay-Jelski after he said Martina Navratilova and Sharron Davies were ‘not experts’ on trans athletes in female events

Mr Kay-Jelski (pictured) has previously claimed in an article for the Times in 2019 that while the two athletes were 'important, influential voices' they were 'not experts' on the topic

Mr Kay-Jelski (pictured) has previously claimed in an article for the Times in 2019 that while the two athletes were ‘important, influential voices’ they were ‘not experts’ on the topic

Ms Navratilova (pictured) claimed Mr Kay-Jelski, who has previously worked for the digital sports subscription service The Athletic, has blocked her on X

Ms Navratilova (pictured) claimed Mr Kay-Jelski, who has previously worked for the digital sports subscription service The Athletic, has blocked her on X

After a self-proclaimed feminist drew attention to the article by the new sports boss at the BBC, Ms Navratilova responded.

The tennis star wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: ‘This is pretty pathetic – never heard of this man, looked him up here and found myself blocked.

‘Once again, good to know that men apparently know what women like myself and Sharron know about biology and sports etc. Just amazing to be this confident, no?’

The row drew in Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling who wrote: ‘I’d say it’s unbelievable for a man in his position to say these things at all, let alone block you, and yet, given the shameful state of the BBC’s reporting on the women’s rights/gender issue, it’s utterly predictable.’

The BBC declined to comment on the row. But a source at the BBC said it was not going to comment on Mr Kay-Jelski’s work for other organisations. They added he had a job to do at the BBC and he would be focussed on that.

The row is embarrassing as earlier this week the corporation unveiled Ms Navratilova as part of its Wimbledon line-up. She will ‘reflect on the day’s matches’ along with the likes of John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Pat Cash and Tim Henman.

Mr Kay-Jelski, who as well as The Times, also previously worked for the Daily Mail, is joining the BBC from sports website The Athletic where he was editor in chief.

In March 2019, while working at The Times, his article about trans athletes said: ‘She [Sharron Davies] and Martina Navratilova are important, influential voices who speak for many women on this topic.

‘They, like most of us, are not experts though. And while it’s important to hear and respect people’s views, I disagree and worry a circus is being created out of something that a) is not a huge problem in sport and b) further marginalises totally unthreatening people and creates a narrative of fear around them.’

Former Olympian Sharron Davies (pictured) is well known for winning silver at the 400m medley silver at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow

Former Olympian Sharron Davies (pictured) is well known for winning silver at the 400m medley silver at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow

Sharron Davies on the way to winning silver in the 1980 Moscow Olympics

Sharron Davies on the way to winning silver in the 1980 Moscow Olympics

He added: ‘I also don’t see evidence of this supposed crusade to obliterate women’s sport.

‘And in creating one, we are making a group of vulnerable people feel victimised when they’ve already been through hell.

‘It has been suggested that they should compete in their own special category so there’s no sporting advantage. What about special categories for Jamaican sprinters and Ethiopian marathon runners, whose genetics has been shown to give them an advantage over their rivals? Sounds mad doesn’t it? Nasty, even. Indeed.’

The BBC’s chief content officer Charlotte Moore said in April when Mr Kay-Jelski’s appointment was announced: ‘Alex is a dynamic and creative editorial leader who has a clear vision about how to take BBC Sport into the future.’

She added: ‘His editorial judgement and expert knowledge is impressive and he brings with him a wealth of experience in telling stories and delivering sports content to audiences in a digital world.’

The issue of trans rights has become incredibly sensitive at the BBC as it has faced accusations that in the past it has been too influenced by campaign groups like Stonewall.

Martina Navratilova pictured holding the Wimbledon women's singles trophy in 1990

Martina Navratilova pictured holding the Wimbledon women’s singles trophy in 1990

Ms Rowling has been outspoken on her views on gender, and just last month claimed women’s rights are facing ‘the greatest assault in my lifetime’ by trans activists.

The 58-year-old has been criticised by people on the opposite side of the gender debate, but said she regrets not speaking out ‘far sooner’ and would be ‘ashamed for the rest of my days’ if she did not stick her head above the parapet.

She explained her belief in protecting women’s sex-based rights in an essay which features in The Women Who Wouldn’t Wheesht – a forthcoming book on Scotland’s battle for women’s rights.

And she said that had she not spoken out against activism she would have felt ‘ashamed for the rest of my days’.

Ms Rowling (pictured) has been outspoken on her views on gender, and just last month claimed women's rights are facing 'the greatest assault in my lifetime' by trans activists

Ms Rowling (pictured) has been outspoken on her views on gender, and just last month claimed women’s rights are facing ‘the greatest assault in my lifetime’ by trans activists

Members of the public take part in a Let Women Speak protest on April 6, 2024 in Edinburgh

Members of the public take part in a Let Women Speak protest on April 6, 2024 in Edinburgh

‘I’d come to believe that the socio-political movement insisting ‘trans women are women’ was neither kind nor tolerant, but in fact profoundly misogynistic, regressive, dangerous in some of its objectives and nakedly authoritarian in its tactics,’ Rowling said, in an extract published in the Times.

Her comments came as the Conservatives recently announced new plans to make it easier to ban post-op trans people in women-only spaces.

The landmark change in the law proposed by the Conservatives would allow transgender women to be blocked from entering female-only spaces without legal recourse.

This includes areas such as single-sex hospital wards, rape crisis centres, prison cells and lavatories, and from competing in women’s sports. 

That would cover transgender women who have had reconstructive surgery and those who have a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) stating that they have changed gender.

Such an update to the 2010 legislation, to make clear that ‘sex’ refers to ‘biological sex’, was backed by Britain’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, in April last year.

At present, if organisers try to block transgender women from female-only spaces, they face legal challenges and being sued for discrimination.

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