Trans­gen­der rules un­der re­view

Changes are planned to help ad­dress one of modern-day sport’s most com­plex is­sues, writes Mar­tyn Ziegler

Sunday Star-Times - - Sport -

LEAD­ING sport­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions are re­view­ing their pol­icy on trans­gen­der ath­letes amid con­cerns that men who tran­si­tion to be­come women could re­ceive an un­fair ad­van­tage in fe­male com­pe­ti­tions. The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee, World Rugby, the Rugby Foot­ball Union and Bri­tish Cy­cling are among those car­ry­ing out re­views.

Ex­ist­ing IOC rules al­low trans women to take part in fe­male sport if they have re­duced testos­terone lev­els, even if they still have male gen­i­talia. Crit­ics of that pol­icy, in­clud­ing some fem­i­nist groups, say that trans ath­letes will have a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage if they de­vel­oped male bod­ies be­fore they tran­si­tioned to be­com­ing women.

The IOC has a ‘‘con­sen­sus group’’ work­ing on the is­sue and aims to pro­vide up­dated guide­lines this year. The is­sue is sep­a­rate to the de­bate on ath­letes such as the South African run­ner Caster Se­menya, who has an higher than av­er­age level of testos­terone. Se­menya, 28, is legally chal­leng­ing the IAAF’s rules that such ath­letes should have chem­i­cally-low­ered testos­terone.

Trans cam­paign­ers in­sist that trans ath­letes should not be ex­cluded from tak­ing part in com­pet­i­tive sport, and that hor­mone ther­apy to be­come a woman rad­i­cally changes their phys­i­ol­ogy, even if they do not have surgery. The is­sue is hugely com­plex, par­tic­u­larly for con­tact sports such as rugby where phys­i­cal­ity is im­por­tant.

Last year, the trans­gen­der ath­lete Han­nah Mouncey, a 29-yearold for­mer mem­ber of the Aus­tralian men’s hand­ball team, was blocked from play­ing in Aus­tralian Rules foot­ball’s pro­fes­sional women’s league on the grounds of strength and physique.

Lau­rel Hub­bard, 41, a New Zealand weightlifter, com­peted as a man be­fore tran­si­tion­ing at the age of 35. She took part in the Com­mon­wealth Games last year and was ex­pected to win gold, but had to with­draw be­cause of an in­jury.

Dr Nicola Wil­liams, from cam­paign group Fair Play for Women, which rep­re­sents women’s voices on trans­gen­der is­sues, said sim­ply hav­ing a lower testos­terone level did not make it a level play­ing field: ‘‘The IOC have a rule that trans­gen­der peo­ple need to lower their testos­terone level for at least 12 months, but that is just not suf­fi­cient. It is just an ar­bi­trary line,’’ she said.

‘‘If some­one has grown up and de­vel­oped a male body and then tran­si­tioned to be­ing a woman, then they will still have a male body, with the mus­cle de­vel­op­ment and the mus­cle mem­ory. It is the same ef­fect as if a woman had been dop­ing for years to build mus­cle and then stopped – there is still the pos­i­tive ef­fect of the mus­cle.

‘‘We are quite con­cerned that there is a lack of sci­en­tific rigour on this and it re­ally needs to be ad­dressed be­fore the 2020 Olympics.’’

Dr Rachel McKin­non, a 35-year-old Cana­dian who tran­si­tioned in her late 20s and won a world masters cy­cling cham­pi­onship in Oc­to­ber, told the BBC that tran­si­tion­ing re­sults in ‘‘pretty rad­i­cal phys­i­o­log­i­cal changes’’. She also in­sisted that it was ‘‘ir­rel­e­vant’’ if trans women ath­letes have male gen­i­tals.

She wrote on her blog: ‘‘A pe­nis has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with sport per­for­mance. Gen­i­tals are ir­rel­e­vant to hit­ting a ten­nis ball, rid­ing a bike or throw­ing a javelin. Treat­ing trans women with a pe­nis as not ‘real’ women is, in­deed, trans­pho­bic.’’

The IOC changed its trans­gen­der pol­icy in 2015 to re­move the re­quire­ment for gen­i­tal surgery. It now re­quires women ath­letes to be be­low the spec­i­fied level of testos­terone for at least 12 months.

World Rugby and the RFU, for who player wel­fare has be­come a se­ri­ous con­cern es­pe­cially in terms of in­juries and con­cus­sions, say they want to pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for trans­gen­der play­ers but that size, weight and strength need to be taken into ac­count.

The RFU’s pol­icy states: ‘‘The phys­i­cal strength, stamina or physique of an av­er­age per­son of one gen­der could put them at an ad­van­tage or a dis­ad­van­tage to an av­er­age per­son of the other gen­der as com­peti­tors in a rugby union match. Ev­ery sit­u­a­tion will be re­viewed on a case-by-case ba­sis, in­clud­ing gen­der-af­fected is­sues such as the player’s phys­i­cal strength and stamina.’’

World Rugby said in a state­ment: ‘‘World Rugby is await­ing the out­come from the lat­est IOC re­view of the trans­gen­der sports par­tic­i­pa­tion pol­icy, specif­i­cally in re­la­tion to the ap­pro­pri­ate testos­terone lev­els and the tech­ni­cal, test­ing and lo­gis­tic as­pects, which are im­por­tant in a con­tact team sport en­vi­ron­ment. We re­main com­mit­ted to in­clu­siv­ity, have con­trib­uted to the IOC pol­icy re­view, and are work­ing to­wards the pub­li­ca­tion of a re­vised pol­icy this year.’’

San­dra Forgues, a 49-year-old for­mer Olympic row­ing cham­pion for France, who tran­si­tioned two years ago, told The Times last week that the is­sue of whether trans ath­letes should be al­lowed to com­pete was com­plex.

‘‘If you tran­si­tion af­ter 15 years of gym work and [nat­u­ral] testos­terone, it’s com­pa­ra­ble to a woman spend­ing 10 years on a dop­ing pro­gramme,’’ she said. ‘‘You’d blow ev­ery­one away and peo­ple would ask ques­tions.’’

Forgues does believe that trans women who tran­si­tion dur­ing ado­les­cence should be al­lowed to com­pete in women’s events.

‘‘If you re­ceive hor­mone ther­apy at 16, by 24 you are no stronger or weaker than any other woman.’’

‘‘A pe­nis has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with sport per­for­mance.’’ Dr Rachel McKin­non


New Zealand’s Lau­rel Hub­bard com­petes in the +90kg weightlift­ing fi­nal at the Com­mon­wealth Games last year.


Han­nah Mouncey, right, a for­mer mem­ber of the Aus­tralian men’s hand­ball team, was blocked from play­ing pro­fes­sional women’s Aus­tralian Rules.

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