Women and girls deserve their own sports

@WeirAlison on how a drive for inclusion in sport has the effect of excluding females from activities and opportunities

I first came to the gender issue through sport. I played a lot of sport in my youth, and both my children have benefited hugely from involvement in sport.

I remain involved with athletics, and the many issues involved in women’s sport ­– from eating disorders in distance runners to the impact of menstruation on performance, sexual assault of female athletes to the disparity in sponsorship deals between elite female and male athletes – were issues that interested me. 

I followed Caster Semenya’s appeal to the Court for Arbitration in Sport closely and also noted the abuse that Lynsey Sharp received for suggesting that Semenya (and indeed Margaret Wambui and Francine Niyonsaba, the other 800m medallists from the Rio Olympics) had an advantage over other women competing in sport.

It is understood that all 3 are 46XY athletes with a 5-ARD DSD, a disorder found exclusively in males. 

At that time, I was unaware of the push for transgender athletes to be included in women’s sport, but the more I followed this story, the more I began to see the push to redefine women by their gender identity, rather than their physical sex. And it seemed that in trying to be inclusive, the sporting world had forgotten why sport is segregated in the first place.

A significant advantage

Sport is not segregated to validate someone’s identity but rather to ensure that one class or category of people do not have such a significant advantage over others as to render competition unfair. 

Some sports are not segregated at all – equestrianism, for example – as the various factors involved means no category of people has a significant advantage over another in that sport.

Some sports are segregated only by sex, including athletics and swimming. Some sports are segregated by sex and also within that by weight, such as boxing and judo. 

For me, the question should not be what constitutes a woman for the purpose of sport, but applying objective assessment, does one category of participants have a significant advantage over another? 

Much emphasis has been put on the level of testosterone at the time of competition, but this discounts the impact that testosterone has had in the development of the athlete. The only extensive study done to date (the Swedish GETS study) concluded that the lowering of testosterone had an insignificant impact on the muscle mass of transwomen athletes.

The differences are obvious

But in concentrating on that study, we disregarded the countless other advantages a male-born athlete has over female athletes.

There are more than 6000 differences between a male and a female body. Males are on average significantly taller than female athletes; they have a pelvic tilt that allows for longer stride length; they have larger hearts and lungs, allowing for better oxygen transfer; and different proportions of twitch fibres, which aid sprint and jumping events in track and field.

The average age at which a boy exceeds the female track and field world record is around 14 and a half years old.

There are other issues, too. In contact sports, male-born athletes present a significant danger to female athletes. The MMA fighter Fallon Fox shattered the orbital bone of her female opponent.

Kelly Morgan’s rugby coach described how she folded a female opponent like a deckchair to which Morgan’s response was “I do feel guilty, but what can you do? I don’t go out to hurt anybody. I just want to play rugby.”

An invitation to the unscrupulous

The focus on inclusive participation also ignores the socio-economic impact that sporting opportunity may provide. If women are replaced in sport by male-born athletes, then those opportunities will be lost to female athletes. Doriane Coleman, a professor at Duke Law School, spoke passionately to CAS in the Caster Semenya appeal about the benefits of participation in sport for girls.

For those who remember the state-sponsored doping of the 1970s and 1980s, it is not a stretch to imagine unscrupulous nations taking second-tier men, persuading them to lower testosterone and presenting a women’s team in which no natal females compete. There are allegations this has already happened with the Chinese women’s 4x400m relay team. It can’t be long before others follow suit.

Cece Telfer, a US athlete who as Craig Telfer was ranked 390th in the 2018 college rankings, was an NCAA women’s champion after transition and has stated an intention to compete at the Olympics. 

So, as I said, I came to the gender issue via sport, but through that, I started seeing the abuse levelled at lesbians who refused to accept people with penises in their dating pool. I became an activist because of the blatant homophobia in that and also because of the hugely regressive boxing up of things and activities as either male or female and the attempt to redefine what a woman is. 

For all of those reasons, I am saying if you can’t respect my sex, don’t expect my X, and I’ll be voting with my feet on May 6.

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