Olympic committee supports trans women in sport

The Olympic committee has made clear rules favouring trans women’s participation in women’s sport.

The 2015 Olympic rules required a reduction in T levels for a year before competition. This proved that someone was genuinely trans. I don’t believe a male athlete would pretend to be a trans woman in order to beat women rather than come middle of the pack racing men, but he certainly would not take T suppressants in order to do so. Then, trans women could compete with other women.

Now, the IOC says each sport’s governing bodies must make its own rules. It has ten principles, to be read as a whole, including fairness and human rights.

How could sport make one rule for fairness in elite sport and grassroots sport? If I, at 55, considered doing my first 5km park run, how is that like an exceptionally talented twelve-year-old sprinter, starting a male puberty, who knows she is a girl?

There are women who are taller, stronger, more muscular, with better aerobic fitness than I have, even at my age. If I could win that park run, or win an over-50s category, I might not want to, because I feared transphobic reactions. But running does not reduce the safety of other competitors. Contact sports might. If a trans woman bowled faster than a cis woman, might that endanger a cis woman at the wicket or home plate, enough to ban the trans bowler?

Anti-trans groups argue that a male puberty gives advantages even after testosterone is suppressed or removed, in height and strength. They say they want to see the best a female body can achieve. But all elite sports competitors have exceptional bodies, talent and aptitude as well as training. XY androgen insensitive competitors are over-represented in women’s sports.

The principles, which should be read together, are Inclusion, prevention of harm, non-discrimination, fairness, no presumption of advantage, evidence-based approach, primacy of health and bodily autonomy, stakeholder-centred approach, and the right to privacy. There should be periodic reviews.

Under fairness, criteria should “prevent athletes from claiming a gender identity different from the one consistently and persistently used”. I don’t think that should mean T suppression. Requiring medical treatment conflicts with my human rights. T suppression might make someone infertile, and that might be too high a price to pay to compete at elite level, and certainly at grassroots level. Change of name and title, styles of clothes and hair, should be sufficient. Nor should there be a year before someone can compete. Someone AMAB nonbinary might not enter women’s competition, but women’s competition is clearly binary.

This is an improvement. Trans women need not go a year without competing. We can preserve our fertility. The basic principle is that trans women are women, unless there is evidence we “consistently and persistently” present male, and so should be entitled to be in women’s sports unless this is unsafe for other competitors.

World Rugby says trans women cannot play women’s rugby. Rugby is a contact sport, where strength, speed and weight matter, but they might find their blanket ban falls foul of the IOC’s new code.

The rugby men’s B team will not all take women’s names so they can beat women. If someone changes her name and expression “consistently and persistently”, she is a trans woman. Fairness includes a risk to physical safety, but rugby women are big and strong.

There has to be an evidence-based approach, with no presumption of advantage for trans women. The evidence has to be about “consistent athletic engagement” with the sport to be regulated, and must demonstrate disproportionate advantage or unpreventable risk exists for the specific sport.

If someone is excluded she must be able to challenge the decision (Fairness; 6.2b).

There are powerful arguments in the rules for trans inclusion. The first principle is Inclusion. Sports should be welcoming to all gender identities. Sports bodies should prevent discrimination, harassment and abuse, taking into account the particular vulnerabilities and needs of trans people.

2: Prevention of Harm- this specifically includes the mental wellbeing, impliedly including mental wellbeing of trans people who need to be recognised in our true gender.

3: Non-discrimination. There should be no systematic exclusion of trans women. Disproportionate competitive advantage might exclude some individual trans women.

7. Primacy of health and bodily autonomy. There should be no pressure to medically unnecessary treatment. If a trans woman wants to preserve her fertility, she can.

Even 8, the Stakeholder-centred approach, which says athletes must be consulted about the rules and allowed to raise concerns, may be to the advantage of trans women. Some women athletes speak out loudly against trans inclusion, and are amplified by anti-trans publications and organisations. A consultation would reach past these, to some who might be trans-inclusive.

I can’t comment about how general sporting rules affect the right to privacy, principle 9, and trans or DSD status is often notorious, energetically circulated by phobes and rubberneckers, but I am glad privacy is one of the principles.

10. There should be periodic reviews reflecting ethical and scientific developments.

Transition is not a choice. Trans is part of who we are, just as being gay is part of a gay person. We should not be excluded, and sporting bodies should recognise that.

From the Guardian’s report I am pleased to see Joanna Harper, visiting fellow for trans athletic performance at Loughborough university, is trans. I am less pleased to see her saying there should be restrictions without clear evidence. She says trans women are on average taller, bigger and stronger. But elite athletes are on average taller, bigger and stronger and at the last Olympics there was just one trans woman in competition, out of 11,656 athletes. I wish they would not refer to “women’s campaign groups” when they clearly mean from context anti-trans campaign groups. If a group’s main activity is to campaign against trans rights, it is not a women’s or LGB group, it is an anti-trans group.

The IOC announced the guidelines, which you can download.

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