Last updated on January 21st, 2021 at 10:22 am
When almost every single sport has separate men’s and women’s competitions, there is clearly a logical and common sense reason for this. Where the physical component comes into play, the difference between the two sexes emerges, imposing a choice of clear distinction. To deny this fact is to deny a biological truth.
Speed and muscle strength
This truth is confirmed by a study recently published in Sports Medicine and reported by the British newspaper The Guardian. It stated that men are about 10-13% faster than women in running and swimming, but that the gap widens to between 29 and 52% when it comes to bowling (in cricket, the equivalent of pitching in baseball), to weightlifting, and in general to any sports that rely on muscle mass and explosive strength. “Differences in performance greater than 20% are usually present when considering sports and activities that involve large upper body contributions,” the study points out.
The case of the trans athlete
In the light of these considerations, the choice of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to admit non-operated transgender male athletes to competitions reserved for women cannot but be perplexing. Proponents of this innovation say that athletes, before moving on to competition with the fairer sex, would have undergone hormone treatments designed to suppress their testosterone. However, the study in Sports Medicine refutes this argument: the researchers revealed that the loss of lean body mass, muscle area, and strength is only 5% after twelve months of taking testosterone-lowering drugs. Even when testosterone is suppressed in significant amounts, i.e. one nanomole per liter (nmol/L), it does not “eliminate the anthropometric advantage of muscle mass/strength significantly.”
No wonder, then, that there have been frequent landslide victories for transgender male-to-female athletes in women’s races. The study’s authors therefore believe that “the IOC may need to re-evaluate” whether the current guidelines are correct and safe for women’s competitions. And they also ask whether, from a medical-ethical perspective, it is acceptable for the IOC to require transgender athletes to significantly reduce their testosterone in order to compete with women.
Years ago, in La Gazzetta dello Sport, this concern was voiced by a famous Italian physiologist, Professor Arsenio Veicsteinas, who died in 2017. “He who is born a man has male anatomical characteristics,” the specialist stated. “Those who decide to change their sex retain their DNA, despite hormone treatments,” he added. And finally he observed: “The ethics of sport is that we compete on equal terms. The fairness of competition is especially undermined for a man who becomes a woman: how will one argue in the face of a woman’s protests that one has played on equal terms?”
The courage to disagree
The displeasure towards the IOC decision crosses the world of women’s sport, even if often people prefer not to make it explicit for fear of being accused of discrimination. One who has dared challenge this particular aspect of political correctness is the famous Czech-born US tennis player Martina Navrátilová, who is also an avowed lesbian: she has called this system a “scam”. Navrátilová’s statement exposed the athlete to media pillorying and attacks on social media. “I am a strong person,” said the tennis champion, “but I am afraid that others may be reduced to silence or submission.”
Meanwhile, a small but significant sign of hope comes from Connecticut, where a group of young female athletes has filed a lawsuit against the presence of trans athletes in women’s competitions. “Mentally and physically we know the outcome before the race even starts,” says one of them, Alanna Smith, daughter of former baseball player Lee Smith.
The law in favour of sportswomen
Recently these young U.S. athletes gained a political ally. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, introduced a bill, the Protect Women’s Sports Act, along with fellow Republican Markwayne Mullin, in the former Congress. It called for banning male trans athletes from competing in women’s events. Disavowing the biological differences between males and females, Gabbard says, is “the height of hypocrisy” for those defending women’s rights. Gabbard says, the difference between the sexes “is a scientifically established fact.” However, the bill was not looked upon favorably by the Democratic leadership, and it is doubtful whether it will come up in the new Congress. Apparently, in some circles, science is only to be followed when it suits the political agenda.