Rugby club hits back after Martina Navratilova asks how many players would ‘date’ India Willoughby

A pro-LGBTQ+ rugby club has hit back against Martina Navratilova after she questioned how many of its players would “date” its trans patron, broadcaster India Willoughby.

Former Loose Women co-host Willoughby was appointed patron of the rugby club the Keighley Cougars in April this year, making her the first trans person to hold a patron title in the sport.

The announcement sparked hefty backlash online, with many attacking the rugby team for supporting trans people.

On Tuesday (3 June), one of the club’s members, Ryan O’Neill, shared a post on X/Twitter of squad members with Willoughby, tagging ‘gender-critical’ pundit Graham Linehan, author JK Rowling, and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch, telling them that “this is what it’s like when people live their true self.”

Hi @KemiBadenoch @jk_rowling @Glinner . This is what it’s like when people live their true self, just folks getting along. @IndiaWilloughby having a great day out and proudly being our @Cougarmania patron and straight rugby players accepting that a trans woman is a woman.… pic.twitter.com/LNgunjBUbQ

— Ryan O’Neill (@MrRypod) June 3, 2024

O’Neill wrote: “Just folks getting along. India Willoughby having a great day out and proudly being our [Keighley Cougars] patron and straight rugby players accepting that a trans woman is a woman.”

The post received yet more backlash, including from former tennis player, Martina Navratilova, who has been a vocal opponent of trans inclusion in women’s sports.

“How many of those men would like to date India? Hmm…,” she wrote.

Responding to the post, the Keighley Cougars official X/Twitter account replied: “Our players are not interested in who you date, Martina, neither should you worry who they would date or not.

“They are more focused on training and being accepting of everyone. Try that for a change. Just a tip,” the account wrote.

India Willoughby also responded to the post with a set of pictures from a 1980 issue of the St. Cloud Times featuring a homophobic article that claimed “Martina turns girls into gays.”

In sharing the excerpts, Willoughby said it was “so sad” to see Navratilova hitting back against a pro-trans sports team, saying she was “subjected to almost identical fear-mongering and persecution, now doing it to trans people.”

“While talking about me … Martina has blocked me,” Willoughby said in a subsequent post. “Maybe someone can pass this on to them? So weird how she now does this very thing to others.”

While Navratilova did not respond to Willoughby, she responded to the Keighley Cougars, writing: “Just a tip- leave women’s sports to women. Leave women’s sex-based spaces to women. Then I won’t care at all about what you do.”

JK Rowling also responded to the post, writing: “It’s so inspirational that these straight lads agree India’s a woman, because they’ve got so much skin in the game! How incredibly brave, for a bunch of straight guys to approve of a misogynistic man getting access to female spaces! Honestly, I’m shedding a tear here.”

The latest online row didn’t seem to affect Willoughby, however. The broadcaster posted a set of pictures with the team along with their latest, trans-inclusive jersey.

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