Science or Fudge

Swimmers pose together for Lia Thomas’ win, fuelling controversy of eligibility to compete

The sports world is facing the entrance of more and more transgender athletes, men signing up to compete in all-women challenges. World Athletes President Sebastian Coe promised to be ‘guided by science’ when it comes to sport’s most divisive issue. However, World Athletics’ solution is designed to protect it from legal action; Coe’s certainty has given way to fear of legal challenge. Sport fixtures are the casualty – fans and spectators are falling away from attendance at events. Who wants to see a 6-foot 6-inch man claiming to be a woman andwin all the events? The question arises, motivated by the compulsive liar Lance Armstrong causing honest and fine cyclists to miss out on prizes for the history books – are transgender men doing the same to top female athletes.


by Sean Ingle

During a star-spangled athletics career, Sebastian Coe rarely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The most famous exception came at the Olympic 800m final in Moscow where he made so many tactical missteps that his father and coach, Peter, used a coarse four-letter word to describe his run. However this weekend Coe became reacquainted with similar levels of opprobrium after World Athletics’ proposed solution to sport’s most divisive issue became public.

For months, the World Athletics president Coe has strongly hinted that trans women and athletes with differences of sexual development (DSD), who are 46 XY with male testes but were reported female at birth, should only compete in female sport if the science shows it is fair. “Biology trumps identity,” he said in the summer. “If we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness.” Just in case there was any doubt, Coe also promised to “be guided by the science”, before adding: “Fairness is non-negotiable.”

Yet a curious feat of alchemy takes place when you read World Athletics’ proposed new DSD and transgender regulations, as scientific rigour gives way to a fudge worthy of a master confectioner. There is certainly science in the document and, as Coe often points out, no international federation has studied this issue more closely. In one section, World Athletics stresses that trans women and athletes with a DSD “retain an advantage in muscle mass, volume and strength over cis women after 12 months” of hormone treatment – and that “limited experimental data” suggests the advantages continue after that. In another it notes male puberty leads to anatomical differences that still “provide an athletic advantage” after transitioning.

But instead of going down the road taken by swimming, rugby union and rugby league, which have barred anyone who has gone through male puberty from elite female competition on fairness grounds, World Athletics has surprisingly taken another path. Its “preferred option” involves allowing athletes with a DSD and trans women to still compete in the female category, as long as they reduce their amount of blood testosterone from 5 nmol/L to below 2.5 nmol/L and stay below this permitted threshold for two years, not one as before. However World Athletics accepts this does not level the playing field, given “the preferred option would allow significant (although not full) reduction in anaerobic, aerobic and body composition changes.”

As with all international sports leaders, Coe finds himself in a difficult position. But to his critics he has made fairness negotiable after all. They also question whether the science is being absolutely followed given the lack of evidence that a 24-month reduction in testosterone removes the advantages of male puberty. Mara Yamauchi, the third fastest British marathon runner ever, succinctly described World Athletics’ proposals as: “Suck it up, female athletes.”

Sebastian Coe, World Athletes President “Fairness is non-negotiable’. Photo:Monicah Mwangi

So far only one current British female athlete, the shot putter Amelia Strickler, has spoken out, saying: “I hope more of us band together to prevent this because it is going to be the end.” But can you blame others for staying quiet, given the vicious amount of social media abuse this issue generates?

Strickler’s view was backed by the two-time European indoor 800m medallist, Jamie Webb, who tweeted his proposed solution. “With this and other things, I’ve lost a lot of faith in the sport. Sad to see. Make the male category open. Male athletes won’t be affected whatsoever.”

However as much as it frustrates campaigners, there are a million reasons for World Athletics’ decision. It still retains the scars of its expensive and protracted legal battle with South African Caster Semenya. It won the case, with the court of arbitration for sport accepting that athletes with a DSD “enjoy a significant sporting advantage … over 46 XX athletes without such DSD” due to biology. But it was still left with a legal bill of over £1m.

Crucially, Cas put the onus on World Athletics to prove that what it was doing was fair, reasonable and proportionate. Those words still reverberate in every international federation every time DSD or transgender policies come up. No wonder Coe is being cautious.

There is another factor at play here. In its document World Athletics reveals that 10 athletes with a DSD are competing at elite level, while 17 new potential DSD cases have been under review since July. As things stand those athletes, who have gone through male puberty, can compete in the female category without taking medication in every event except those between 400m to a mile – something Coe has long maintained is deeply unfair.

That partly explains why World Athletics’ new proposals are more focused on the DSD issue, especially as there are currently no elite transgender athletes in track and field. However the rise to prominence the likes of Lia Thomas, who went from being an modest male college swimmer to an NCAA women’s champion after transitioning, along with the cyclist Emily Bridges and the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, suggests it will inevitably that will change.

Meanwhile there are some in sport who believe that World Athletics’ decision reflects a broader trend among administrators to talk up women’s sport but not back it up with enough money or support. As one leading coach put it to me on Sunday: “I’m not sure female sport is seen as a viable business by these types, despite female sport participation and viewing figures increasing every month in all sports.”

World Athletics is better than most in this regard and they also point out that they are planning to consult with female athletes over the coming weeks. Nevertheless there is a lingering disappointment in some quarters that Coe’s bold pronouncements last summer have been filed down on the altar of realpolitik.


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9 Responses to Science or Fudge

  1. sadscot says:

    Something pretty radical is needed in sport for women. They all need to just say, “Enough. We will NOT compete.” and walk away. It’s the only way.

  2. Stuart MacKay says:

    How many decades has it taken to get participation in sports, by girls and women, to today’s levels? It brings a lifetime of benefits, particularly having mechanically stronger bones later in life. All being thrown away to avoid hurting the feelings of a tiny minority who need validation.

  3. lorncal says:

    “… Make the male category open. Male athletes won’t be affected whatsoever… ”

    This is on a par with, “just let fully transitioned men in”. Before you know it, the ‘transgender’ lobby has moved the goalposts again. No, let no biological man, transitioned or not, into female spaces, rights, sports, jobs, etc. None. This is what women should be fighting for now: repeal the GRA 2004 and rewrite/amend the EA 2010. No compromises. They have made none and will make none.

    No one asked women’s permission if men could enter their spaces in the 1960s through to today. No one. Arrogant sexologists/psychologists who knew, and who recorded, these men as autogynephiles never once asked women if it was okay to let loose men in their spaces. This is how little females are regarded. At the Yogyakarta Principles meetings, no one asked females whether they thought that it would be a good idea to make laws that allowed even more men into our spaces. No one bothered to ask.

    Well, now we are saying, no. No biological man in women’s spaces, and for those who witter, oh, but where will they go, these men have had six decades at least to campaign for third spaces, two decades at least to campaign for third space sports. Yet, has anyone ever heard of Stonewall campaigning for ‘trans’ spaces/sports or open spaces/sports? No, because it has been so much easier to become parasites on women’s rights and spaces. If anything marks these men down as autogynephiles/paraphiliacs/fetishists, and, above all, misogynists, it is the fact that they WANT to breach women’s safety, dignity and privacy with impunity and still retain their male privilege. They are taking the michael, and they know it and we know it.

    Come on, ladies, use your vote to have the GRA 2004 repealed and the EA 2010 strengthened so that biological sex and only biological sex has legal status. If the mainstream parties try their tactics of “but they are so vulnerable and marginalised”, just remove your vote, and let the ‘most vulnerable and marginalised in society” keep them afloat. So sick of this con. The reality of the whole ‘transgender’ phenomenon is that it is based on the sexual demands of some men. It really is that simple, folks. This is what it is all about.

    That is why they won’t debate; they’ll get caught out. This is why it is imperative for them to have been ‘trans’ their “whole lives”, and why innocent children are being transitioned, and daft lassies are caught up in a social contagion. So that middle-aged, middle-class, privileged men can get their rocks off woman facing. It is far less about predators, although god knows they are always a threat, but about some men – a lot of them, actually – who get their sexual thrills from pretending to be women. The mantra ‘trans’ women are ‘women’ came in only about a decade ago or less so that they could gain access to more and more legal rights.

  4. indycalls says:

    Good afternoon GB. What I fail to understand in all of this fiasco, is why there isnt a trans group for people who want to be known as male or female to compete in? Then maybe take the best of each group and then let them compete against each other in a yearly or Olympic based competition. Having an unfair advantage over your competitors is exactly that, it’s unfair. To win under those conditions should leave a very bad taste in the ‘winners’ mouth. It’s akin to doping in my eyes and that we all know in the sporting world of humans and animals, is illegal.

    Thanks again for taking the time to shine a light on difficult, uncomfortable and downrught wrong situations.

    Fionnaidh Paul

  5. Alastair says:

    Women are Men and Men are Women anyone who doesn’t get the Supreme leader’s directive will be sent to a thought correction centre in St Kilda.
    Dissolve the Union.

  6. I just cannot get this madness! They all know it is fiction…extreme fiction. It cannot all be about funding sources. It is almost like agnostic belief in a god…I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe in some FAR OFF future human evolution will have three four five ‘sexes’ but it will not be in the lifetime of anyone born in the next couple of hundred years! Science can prove there are only two sexes now, and that is what we must be guided by. An inner feeling is not proof positive of wrong sex. I cannot think of a sport where women would beat men..unless they make Multi Tasking a sport! Then we women would win hands down! lol

  7. diabloandco says:

    It just gets worse and worse but only for the female of the species.

  8. sadscot says:

    Indeed. My first post was short and I should possibly have explained a bit what I meant. If all (real) female athletes simply said to the Sports Authorities, “We’re out, we’ve had it with this.” and walked away, those Authorities would probably pass out cold with shock. For, guess what? If (real) female athletes tell them where to go they’ll have empty statiums for every athletics gathering anywhere in the world and they’re not going to like that. It’s the only way to make them see that women are not having this crap!
    Think of the Liz McColgans, the Yvonne Murrays, the Laura Muirs, the Eilish McColgans and other (real) women in so many sports. They spent their lives from a young age, up at crazy o’clock to go and train, and run and train and run. Only to find they’re expected to compete against a man? If they all get together and tell the Authorities they’re not playing, the Authorities will soon be brought to heel. We really have to knock this on the head!

  9. lorncal says:

    Valeria92: if the women just walk away, that will give the green light to all those pressuring for resources to be taken away from female sports. Many male sports organisations want more money to be spent on them, and say that women’s sports are not entertaining. We have to remember here that so many of these so-called ‘trans’ who are men are also, probably even more so, misogynists. I think that women are just starting to learn just how much some men hate us and want us to have nothing of our own. Zilch. They are simply Western Taliban, who view females as worthy only of breeding and domestic slavery. The move into healthcare will see women choosing not to access it if it is infested by ‘trans’ identified men; the move into all our services will see women absenting themselves from those, too. If you think about it, you can see the pattern developing. Soon. they will try to force us out of employment. They are so like the Taliban, it is eerie.

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