Trans guidelines attempt to balance equity and inclusion, but create confusion

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PROFESSOR JUERGEN STEINACKER: Prioritizing trans women’s right to compete as women, regardless of the effect on women’s competition, has led to this mess…the current guidelines attempt to balance fairness and inclusion, but rather create confusion

  • Guidelines attempt to balance equity and inclusion and create confusion
  • Elite sport cannot be inclusive without compromising the rights of women born
  • The groups that influenced the IOC framework do not recognize this fact.

In my role with World Rowing I have discussed the issue of transgender participation with many female athletes and none of them supported the idea that someone who had gone through male puberty could start competing against a woman simply by identifying as such. Yet, if you follow the International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines on trans inclusion to their logical conclusion, it has now become possible.

It hardly surprises me that elite sport has encountered controversy around swimmer Lia Thomas and, in Britain, cyclist Emily Bridges. Prioritizing trans women’s right to compete as women, regardless of the effect on women’s competition, creates an environment that has led to this mess. Current guidelines attempt to balance equity and inclusion and create confusion. If it is not changed, the situation will not go away.

We all believe in the principle of inclusion. Any reasonable-minded person agrees that trans men and women should be welcome to compete in sport. But elite sport cannot be inclusive – as the word is used in this context – without compromising the rights of women to have a fair chance to compete for medals.

It hardly surprises me that elite sport has been met with controversy around swimmer Lia Thomas (above) and, in Britain, cyclist Emily Bridges.

The human rights groups that have influenced the IOC framework do not recognize this fact. They failed to recognize that while a person has the right to choose their sex, they cannot deny the biological facts and expect to be taken seriously.

Male puberty leads to a dramatic increase in testosterone production levels. Its physical benefits are well established. It promotes growth, increases muscle mass and strength and improves athletic performance. Adult men can report testosterone levels above 10 nanomoles per litre. The levels of biological females are generally below 1.9 nmol/l. Even for women with hyperandrogenism – ie abnormally high testosterone levels – the figure is below 5 nmol/l.

With these figures in mind, in 2020 World Rowing has set a rule that anyone wishing to compete in the women’s category cannot have exceeded 5 nmol/l in a 12 month period. We are convinced that this was the most appropriate and practical compromise.

Emily Bridges has been blocked from the National Omnium Championships.  Pictured: Zach Bridges in 2018 before the transition

Trans cyclist Bridges was denied entry to competition despite her testosterone levels dropping

Trans rider Emily Bridges (right) has been blocked from the National Omnium Championships. Pictured left: Zach Bridges in 2018 before the transition

Some experts have argued that the deletion period should be even longer, but we don’t think there’s enough research to back that up yet. There are irreversible effects of male puberty, such as height and longer limbs, and there may even be a psychological benefit to knowing that you have undergone male puberty, but data regarding the impact on performance remain inconclusive. (A problem with this is that there are so few elite trans-athletes available for study.)

We sought a wide range of expert opinion when establishing our guidelines. We had discussions with lawyers, endocrinologists and social scientists. We spoke to the athletes and their representatives. Every aspect of the matter was thoroughly considered and it was agreed that the burden of proof should be on the trans athlete to show that she qualifies for the female category.

They must provide medical information about their testosterone levels, which is naturally treated confidentially, and be prepared to submit to independent reviews should the federation-appointed panel of experts want further confirmation of their eligibility.

Trans woman Laurel Hubbard competed in weightlifting for New Zealand at the 2021 <a class=Olympics” class=”blkBorder img-share” style=”max-width:100%” />

Trans woman Laurel Hubbard competed in weightlifting for New Zealand at the 2021 Olympics

In other words, contrary to what the IOC framework proposes, you cannot start from a position that considers a trans woman eligible for female competition until proven otherwise. It’s unreasonable when the physical benefits of male puberty are scientific fact.

There have been calls for more research into the physical effects of testosterone and the body’s ability to take advantage of it. Like any scientist, I would support that. In an area that has not been fully investigated, it goes without saying that more work is needed.

We must therefore recognize that our understanding of the subject may evolve and at World Rowing we are already in the process of updating our rules. But we can’t just leave the women’s category open in the meantime. It would destroy women’s competition.

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