A major report from sports institutions in the United Kingdom confirmed what many experts, athletes, scientists and critics regarding the inclusion of trans athletes —biological men— in women’s sports have been denouncing: trans men do have physical advantages over women, even with the suppression or reduction of testosterone levels.
The analysis, carried out by the Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG), examines the rules of non-professional sport in the country and concluded that the current regulations are neither fair nor equitable for women and, therefore, a restructuring of the rules is needed to maintain fairness in women’s disciplines and to find solutions so as not to exclude trans people.
“For many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model,” said the SCEG.
The report consists “of an independent consultation including interviews and surveys, involving respondents from 54 sports and 175 organizations,” the BBC noted.
Sport England, Sport Scotland, Sport Northern Ireland, Sport Wales, and UK Sport took part in the 18-month analysis and produced a guide setting out suggestions for sporting institutions within the UK. The guidance is not aimed at international, professional or elite sport; but it is a good finding and precedent that can be taken into account to modify the current rules in international sport, explains the Daily Mail.
The guidance states that the governing bodies of each national non-professional sport should assess what they want to prioritize when setting their rules and parameters for competition: the inclusion of individuals or the fairness and safety of athletes.
According to the guidance, contact or combat sports that would logically want to put the safety of their athletes first, or those disciplines that require physical strength and endurance and seek to prioritize equality of competition may apply a category called “universal admission” so that transgender athletes have a space to compete.
This option, a priori, would be problematic for biologically male trans people who consider themselves women because their perceived identity would not be taken into account when establishing the rules. That is why the guide states that there is no solution that leaves all parties happy.
Physical advantages for trans athletes
The guide confirms the scientific fact that testosterone suppression falls short of equalizing physical conditions between trans and female athletes.
“Testosterone suppression is unlikely to guarantee fairness between transgender women and natal females in gender-affected sports,” the guide reads. “[There are] retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person registered male at birth.”
This revelation is not new: several scientific studies have pointed out that, if a biological male transitions gender after puberty, the body has already developed innate biological physical advantages, and that is not related to testosterone levels. These strength advantages, although not the only item to be evaluated, generate a competitive disparity in disciplines such as weightlifting, athletics, or contact sports.
“Last year, the scientists Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg found that the male performance advantage in weightlifting was 30 % when compared to women. Their research indicated that even when transgender women suppressed testosterone for 12 months, the loss of lean body mass, muscle area, and strength was only around 5 %,” reported The Guardian.
An emblematic case was that of New Zealand athlete Laurel Hubbard, the first trans athlete to participate in the Olympic Games in the women’s weightlifting discipline. While Hubbard did not fare well at Tokyo 2020, the mere fact that she came into the competition at a high age for her discipline (43 years old) and with a serious injury on her back exemplifies how a biologically male person gets the upper hand over her female peers.
The SCEG study received both criticism and praise. For example, Robbie de Santos, director of the Communications, Campaigns, Policy and Research teams at Stonewall, told the BBC that “It is extremely harmful to this guidance to suggest that there is an inherent conflict between inclusion, fairness, and safety when in reality, the three go hand in hand.”
For her part, Dr. Nicola Williams, of Fair Play For Women, told the British media outlet that it is beginning to be increasingly recognized that “the existing approach to transgender inclusion in sport is out of date and no longer fit for purpose. We commend the Sports Councils for taking the lead to address this difficult and sensitive issue.”
“This comprehensive review confirms what we all know: sex matters in sport. That’s why we have always needed a separate protected category for females and still do.”