There has been a great deal said about trans inclusion or not in sport in recent months. In the last few days the governing body for swimming, FINA, has excluded trans swimmers from elite competition if the trans person has had any puberty in their original biological gender. I understand the requirement is that a trans swimmer will have needed to complete their transition by 12 years of age. It has also been proposed that there will be  a category created for trans swimmers to be able to compete. I assume this is likely to be an open category.  Two prominent swimmers, Caitlin Jenner, the Olympic decathlete, and Sharon Davies also an Olympian have supported the decision, Caitlin Jenner saying “what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period”.

Similarly Rugby League has excluded trans people from participating in their sport. This morning I heard Lord Coe saying that athletics need to look very carefully at this and would expect that restrictions would be likely as the over-arching principle was one of fairness.

Recently, Emily Bridges who has been banned by her Governing Body from competing in women elite races was attacked by Gender Critical activists for winning a cycle race in which trans athletes came first and second. The irony of this is that this race was an open non binary race which specifically included trans people. At the time Emily Bridges was banned from competing, her testosterone levels had been tested and were within the limits required for women competitors having been on HRT for some time. You might argue that testing hormone levels could be a way of deciding whether a trans person is eligible to complete or not in a similar way that drug testing is an intrinsic component in sport.

I think it is safe to assume that all governing bodies in sport will follow this line in the coming months.

Following the FINA decision I was interested to read Megan Rapinoe’s take on this debate. As the former captain of the US football team that led their team to the win the World Cup in 2019. She made an impassioned plea for the inclusion of trans people in all sport speaking “about championing gender equality in the game and said sport needs to “start from inclusion, I’m 100 per cent supportive of trans inclusion. People do not know very much about it. Weʼre missing almost everything.”  Megan Rapinoe went on to say “Frankly, I think what a lot of people know is versions of the right’s talking points because they’re very loud. Theyʼre very consistent, and they’re relentless”. 

“At the highest level, there is regulation. In collegiate sports, there is regulation. And at the Olympic and professional level. Itʼs not like it’s a free-for-all where everyone’s just doing whatever.” adding “Show me the evidence that trans women are taking everyoneʼs scholarships, are dominating in every sport, are winning every title. I’m sorry, it’s just not happening. So we need to start from inclusion, period. And as things arise, I have confidence that we can figure it out. But we canʼt start at the opposite. That is cruel. And frankly, itʼs just disgusting.So, we need to really kind of take a step back and get a grip on what weʼre really talking about here because peopleʼs lives are at risk. Kidsʼ lives are at risk with the rates of suicide, the rates of depression and negative mental health and drug abuse. 

“Weʼre putting everything through, God forbid a trans person be successful in sports. Get a grip on reality and take a step back.” 

There was considerable opposition to the trans weight lifter, Laurel Hubbard, who represented New Zealand at the Olympics in 2020. Her participation did not last long and she failed to get past the first round on that occasion. It would seem that being trans did not give her the unfair advantage that was anticipated she would have. On the other hand she has broken women weight lifting records on other occasions.

The fact that Laurel Hubbard was able to compete was because the International Olympic Committee in 2015 had drawn up a set of recommendations for including transgender athletes. The IWF, had implemented similar policies based on those recommendations. At the moment different sports are allowed to set their own specific policies.

Intellectually I agree with Megane Rapone and feel a great deal of sympathy with her view. Trans people should be included, not be rejected from competing in their chosen gender. On the other hand FINA’s approach avoids the problem if you have not undergone puberty in your birth gender then the problem doesn’t arise.

At the moment my view is that for mature trans athletes to compete in their acquired gender they should be able to demonstrate that their hormone levels are within prescribed limits, as Laurel Hubbard did, which have been arrived at “following the science”. I say this because although I am no athlete I am very aware that my strength has been very significantly depleted as a result of HRT ingested through transitioning.  It seems to me reasonable that there should be a period of adjustment when an athlete transitions to meet any prescribed levels. It would be unfair for a male athlete to transition and then immediately be able to compete in women categories.

However, a real problem as I see it is that everyone is mainly talking about elite athletes. The bigger problem is what happens at grass roots levels. A Court in the US has made a finding that inspection of a person’s genitals is lawful when considering whether a teenage trans girl is allowed to take part in her college sport. I find that degrading and abusive, frankly appalling. What impact do they think that might have on their mental health?

I hope that Megan Rapone is right when she says “I have confidence that we can figure it out”. More cynically I am aware life is unfair and trans athletes may be limited to competing in events open to any gender. I hope not and that a way will be found for appropriate inclusion of trans athletes in whatever sports they wish to participate in.

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