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No, US tennis champ Venus Williams didn’t refuse match against trans woman

IN SHORT: A graphic circulating on social media claims US tennis champion Venus Williams refused to play against a transgender woman. But the claim is false and the graphic shows her sister, Serena Williams. The other woman in the graphic is Amelie Mauresmo, who is not trans.

“Venus Williams forfeits match against trans woman,” reads text on a graphic circulating on social media in Nigeria, South Africa and elsewhere since late April 2024.

“I’m not playing a man,” it quotes US tennis champion Williams as saying.

The graphic includes two photos. One appears to show Williams. The other appears to show another female tennis player.

The graphic has been posted with comments such as:

It can also be seen here and here. (Note: See more instances listed at the end of this report.)

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What is trans?

As categories, gender and sex are different things. Gender typically refers to socially accepted ideas of girlhood and womanhood, on the one hand, and boyhood and manhood on the other. Sex is based on biology and physiology, usually female and male but with some variations in between.

Transgender or trans people are born biologically male or female, but have a different sense of themselves that is unrelated to their biological sex. A trans woman was labelled as male at birth but identifies as female. A trans man was labelled as female at birth but identifies as male.

Trans encompasses a broad range of human experience. Some trans people simply dress and act according to their gender identity. Others choose to undergo hormone therapy or even medical procedures to make their bodies reflect their gender identity.

Trans is different from intersex, which refers to people whose bodies don’t fit neatly into the categories of male and female. Intersex people can be born with a range of differences in their chromosomes, genitals, genetic features or other parts of their bodies. South African athletics champion Caster Semenya is widely understood to be intersex.

The T in the acronym LGBTQI+ stands for transgender, while the I stands for intersex. The other letters stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer.

The rights of trans people have become an issue in the 2024 US presidential election. Likely Republican candidate Donald Trump has vowed to roll back protections for trans people put in place by incumbent Democratic president Joe Biden.

So did Williams forfeit a match against a trans woman, as the graphic claims? We checked.

Serena Williams and Amelie Mauresmo

Venus Williams is a famous, record-breaking athlete, and transgender issues have become a hot social and political topic. But there are no credible news reports of Williams ever having been matched against a trans woman, let alone her “forfeiting” the match. If it had happened, it would have made global headlines.

Africa Check cropped the photos out of the graphic and ran them through reverse image searches.

We found the first photo, supposedly of Venus Williams, in a September 2022 article in the Japan Times. It’s headlined: “Serena Williams ends magical run at U.S. Open in what was likely her final tournament.”

Serena Williams is Venus Williams’s sister and is also a tennis champion.

The photo’s caption in the article reads: “Serena Williams leaves the court after losing her third-round match to Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic.” It’s attributed to the news service Reuters.

Several other photos – here, here, here, here and here – show Serena Williams at the same September 2022 tournament, wearing the same outfit.

We found the second photo on the stock image site Flickr, uploaded 10 years ago in June 2014. It’s titled “Amelie Mauresmo”.

Amelie Mauresmo is a retired professional tennis player. She is not trans.

The photo can also be seen here, here and here, and in each instance she is identified as Mauresmo. 

The claim can also be seen here, here, here and here.

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