Trans athletes ruling: ‘return to sanity’ or unleashing ‘forces of hate’?

The president of World Athletics, Lord Coe puts emphasis on ‘the integrity of the female category’

Lord Coe talking during an interview
Lord Coe: a controversial decision
(Image credit: Kyodo News via Getty Images)

“It was a victory few had expected,” said Janice Turner in The Times. When Lord Coe, the president of World Athletics, unveiled the organisation’s response to the issue of transgender women taking part in elite female events, it seemed likely that it would be a mere tweak to current rules on the levels of testosterone allowed in female athletes’ blood.

Instead, he expressed a “simple yet hitherto unspeakable sentiment”: that “we must maintain fairness for female athletes above all other considerations”.

Following a consultation, World Athletics had decided that “the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount”, and that trans athletes who have been through male puberty will no longer be eligible to compete in women’s categories.

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A welcome “return to sanity”, it means that “new generations of girls, rising at dawn to shave fractions of seconds off personal bests, won’t have to stand on podiums, forcing smiles for the cameras, beside male-born victors”.

‘Unleash the forces of hate’

The ruling does “bring some clarity to a clouded part of the sport”, said Lawrence Ostlere in The Independent. But the fact that “transgender exclusion is now implicit in the foundations of athletics” is no cause for celebration.

Already, according to the 2021 Trans Lives Survey, 77% of trans women who participate in sport have experienced transphobia, and 14% experience abuse or discrimination “every time” they play.

This decision is likely to further unleash the “forces of hate” against this vulnerable group, because “the notion of exclusion will permeate far deeper than elite sport”. And it’s not as if trans athletes were on the point of taking over.

‘Move towards an open category’

Trans women have been eligible for female athletic events for the past 12 years – but not a single one has yet qualified for an international-level competition.

That’s missing the point, said Jon Pike on UnHerd. Trans rights advocates have long portrayed the “inclusion” of trans athletes as a “simple emancipatory project” for them that has “no important implications for anyone else”. But it obviously does.

In reality, testosterone suppression fails to remove the multiple advantages of having experienced male puberty, in terms of lung capacity, skeletal structure and muscle mass; and we have seen trans women reap the advantages in cycling and swimming.

In the long term, said Martina Navratilova in The Times, elite sport will probably have a “biological female” category and an “open” category – “no question marks, no provisos, no asterisks, no doubts”. That is the fairest way to deal with the issue, and it “seems the world is finally waking up and using common sense”.

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