THIS summer, over 12million UK viewers tuned in to watch the England team in the semi- final of the Women’s World Cup.
At last it feels like women’s sport is being recognised – but not everyone agrees that it is in a healthy place.
Fabulous investigates whether trans athletes should be able to compete in women’s sport[/caption]
A growing number of campaigners are worried that sport’s inclusive attitude to trans women athletes – who have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2004 – is unfair to other competitors.
In cricket, the success this summer of Maxine Blythin, Kent’s first trans woman player, has caused controversy.
Maxine identifies as a female and has impressed fans with her performance, but she has also been highlighted by Fair Play For Women, a feminist campaigning organisation that says her playing on the women’s team is wrong because she has gone through male puberty and therefore has an advantage over the women she plays with and against.
Maxine, who is over 6ft tall, had a batting average of 15 when playing on the men’s team. In the woman’s team – St Lawrence and Highland Court – she averages 124.
Kelly Morgan plays for the Porth Harlequins women’s team but she has had to lower her testosterone levels[/caption]
Meanwhile, in rugby, the acceptance of transgender athlete Kelly Morgan into the Porth Harlequins women’s team has also been met with mixed reactions.
According to Welsh Rugby Union, Kelly has had to lower her testosterone levels to counterbalance some of the potential physical advantages of male biology.
Her teammates are welcoming, but others, including former rugby union player Brian Moore, are concerned she could cause an injury to another player by mistake because of her physical strength.
“We have separate women’s and men’s categories because men are stronger than women. The inclusive attitude of most of our sports bodies abolishes fair competition for women and shows a complete disregard for women’s sport,” argues British cyclist Victoria Hood, speaking exclusively to Fabulous.
World cycling champ Dr Rachel McKinnon is a former Olympic medallist, but she has regularly come under fire because she is trans[/caption]
So far she is the only British sportswoman competing at elite level who has revealed her views on the subject – and she is well aware of the risks of speaking out.
“My team will be looking for sponsorship next year and I know my opinion could affect it,” she says. “I have to remind myself that I can say what I think because it isn’t transphobic. I just want to protect women’s sport.”
Dr Nicola Williams heads up Fair Play For Women, which campaigns to keep female sports exclusive to those born female.
She recently wrote to the International Olympic Committee with her concerns and says around 60 world-class athletes signed the letter.
I have to remind myself that I can say what I think because it isn’t transphobic. I just want to protect women’s sport.Victoria Hood
She is keen to protect their names because many are worried about what would happen if their views became known, including being thrown out of their sport’s organisation or even banned from competing.
The word is spreading, though. In July, feminist campaign group Women’s Place UK held a meeting in central London that was attended by more than 750 people, all concerned about the impact of trans inclusion on the future of women’s sport.
Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies spoke at the event and there were video messages of support from Dame Kelly Holmes and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson. Decathlete Daley Thompson was in the audience.
Martina Navratilova has also spoken out. With cyclist Rachel McKinnon’s win stirring up heated debate on social media, the former Wimbledon champion tweeted: “You can’t just proclaim yourself female and be able to compete against women.
Kent player Maxine Blythin has also faced a backlash as feminist campaign Fair Play For Women says she has an unfair advantage having gone through male puberty[/caption]
“There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as [a] woman would not fit that standard.”
Sharron Davies agreed, tweeting: “I have nothing against anyone who wishes 2be transgender. However I believe there is a fundamental difference between the binary sex u r born with & the gender u may identify as.
“To protect women’s sport those with a male sex advantage should not be able 2compete in women’s sport [sic].”
Both faced a fierce backlash on social media for their comments. Rachel described Martina’s comments as “hate speech”, and accused Davies of being a “transphobe”.
Sporting legend Sharron Davies says she has ‘nothing against anyone who wishes to be transgender’ but she believes that those with a male sex advantage shouldn’t be allowed to compete in women’s sport[/caption]
Rachel also told the BBC that she received up to 100,000 negative messages on Twitter as well as physical hate mail, adding that she was disappointed that people still held such views.
American cyclist Jennifer Wagner-Assali, 39, competed in the same world championship as Rachel and tweeted “its definitely NOT fair” that a trans woman was included in the same category.
“Nobody asked us if this would be OK,” she tells Fabulous. “Women have just had to accept it. If we question it, we could be thrown out of our sports club or lose our sponsorship. Biological females are giving up their place on the podium to help transgender athletes succeed.”
Dr Emma Hilton thinks the future is a dystopian one in women’s sport, predicting there will eventually be two groups of people: female-bodied women and male-bodied women[/caption]
She claims the governing body USA Cycling is silencing fellow cyclists in America. “They said: ‘We’ve made a rule and this is what we’ve decided. If anybody hears of any untoward comments they should forward them to USA Cycling. We’ll take care of it.’”
Since 2004, trans women competing in the Olympics were required to have undergone gender reassignment surgery and had two years of hormone therapy to suppress testosterone.
But in 2015 the rules, which are set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), were relaxed – now trans women athletes must have declared their gender identity as female, and this cannot be changed for sporting purposes for four years, plus they must demonstrate a testosterone level of 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to their first competition.
There is no requirement for them to undergo gender reassignment surgery, as this is seen as a violation of human rights. These policy changes didn’t affect the 2016 Olympic games, but it’s expected there will be a big impact at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Feminist group Women’s Place UK recently held a meeting for those who are concerned about the impact of trans inclusion on the future of women’s sport, which was attended by Dame Kelly Holmes and Sharron Davies[/caption]
There is some controversy about whether the IOC rules go far enough to level the playing field. The rules – which are followed by most international sports bodies – are based on research by Joanna Harper, a trans athlete and medical physicist at Providence Portland Medical Centre.
Her study, published in 2015, found that trans women tended to run significantly slower after reducing their testosterone levels.
However critics, such as Dr Emma Hilton, a developmental biologist at the University of Manchester, discredit that study.
Harper’s research, she says, was tiny – only eight athletes were involved, all of them distance → runners. None were competing at international level and all their times were self-reported.
American cyclist Jennifer Wagner-Assali believes it ‘is definitely not fair’ that she had to compete against a trans woman[/caption]
Jennifer Fabulous that ‘if we question it, we could be thrown out of our sports club or lose our sponsorship’[/caption]
She argues that one year of lowered testosterone isn’t enough to remove the physical advantages that those born male will have had throughout their lives.
“Male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than female athletes. This underpins the need for a protected category for females to compete fairly,” Emma says.
“In childhood, boys can do more pull-ups and run faster than girls. Then at male puberty, as their testosterone levels rise, the difference becomes even more pronounced.”
She points out that the 100m world record for men, held by Usain Bolt, is 9.58 seconds, compared with the women’s record of 10.49 seconds set by Florence Griffith-Joyner.
Jennifer adds that when competing against a trans woman, ‘it’s always in the back of your mind that it’s not a fair competition, and that makes it impossible to focus’[/caption]
Campaigners from Fair Play For Women argue that allowing biological males who identify as women into a female category undermines the reason we have divisions in the first place.
Nicola says: “For years, women were excluded from sport because it was considered a man’s activity,” she says. “
There wasn’t even female football after the war – the Football Association banned female teams in 1921, only lifting it 50 years later.
“We’ve finally managed to carve out categories for ourselves, but it is now being infiltrated by people who were born with male bodies.”
Male athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than female athletes. This underpins the need for a protected category for females to compete fairly.Dr Emma Hilton
Cyclist Rachel, who transitioned in her late 20s and has not had gender reassignment surgery, firmly believes that trans women do not have an advantage over those born female.
“There is no debate to be had over whether trans women athletes have an unfair advantage: it’s clear that they don’t,” she wrote in a statement.
She said in an interview that her hormone treatment resulted in “pretty radical physiological changes”, reducing her muscle size, strength and speed.
She insisted that it should not be an issue if trans women have male genitals, tweeting: “People: genitals are IRRELEVANT to sports performance. You don’t hit a tennis ball with your penis or vagina. The focus on the penis… is sexist and transphobic/transmisogynistic.”
Jennifer had gone up against Rachel, who firmly believes that trans women do not have an advantage over those born female[/caption]
But for athletes like Jennifer Wagner-Assali, an athlete’s sex is far from irrelevant. “It’s really distracting [to race against a trans woman],” she tells Fabulous.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that it’s not a fair competition, and that makes it impossible to focus.
“It’s frustrating because you feel that there’s nothing you can say about it. You just have to race and do your best.”
Debate is raging in laboratories and sports clubs over the exact advantages for athletes of being born male. A study is currently taking place at Loughborough University, but the results won’t be available for five years.
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova disagrees, says ‘you can’t just proclaim yourself female and be able to compete against women[/caption]
“Until there is evidence to the contrary, the female category should remain exclusively for the female sex,” says cyclist Victoria. “Otherwise it will be too late. The damage will have been done. It’s impossible to take back medals.”
Many on the trans-inclusive side argue that it doesn’t matter if biological men have physical advantages because sportspeople don’t compete on a level playing field even within their biological sex.
“We permit very tall women to compete against short women in sports that select for tallness like basketball, volleyball or rowing, and we consider that fair. So we [already] permit very large competitive advantages through natural characteristics,” Rachel said in an interview last year.
And yet, for critics this too can be easily dismissed. “A trans woman still has a head start because she was born male,” says Emma.
British cyclist Victoria Hood says that governing bodies are too afraid of the backlash to take action[/caption]
Victoria thinks it could take a big win by a trans woman at Tokyo 2020 for others to take notice. “When people see a biological male competing against females, that’s when they will understand how unfair this is,” she says.
“At the moment, governing bodies and sponsors are too terrified of a backlash from trans activists [for anything to change].”
Emma sees a dystopian future for women’s sport. She argues that although only 0.5 per cent of the population are transgender, just one win could change the landscape.
“Ultimately these new rules will become embedded and normalised within sports,” she says. “Women’s sport will eventually involve two groups of people: female-bodied women and male-bodied women.
“Coaches will pick the male-bodied women because they will be the best and women will be excluded from their own sports altogether.”
Victoria adds: “I have sympathy for male athletes who identify as female and solutions need to be found so that they can compete in sport, but sympathy does not mean we should disregard principles of fair play and sacrifice women’s sport.
“It may be a human right to participate in sport, but it is not a human right to identify into whichever sports category you wish. If we want to protect women’s sport, we have to show we care.”