An ongoing quest for transgender athletes, inclusion and justice

Should competitive justice be the main goal of elite sports? Or does maintaining integrity mean that integrity is as important as a level playing field?

The issue, which has successfully raised the water of ponds on all sides with the success of Thomas Thomas, a swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, came to the fore again on Sunday. The FINA, the global governing body for swimming, primarily bans eunuchs from the highest levels of international competition for women.

FINA proposes to create a so-called open category of competition to “protect the fairness of competition”. But a separate category is “the ability to isolate, degrade and turn the transgender and non-binary rivals into a spectacle on the international stage,” said Ann Lieberman, director of policy and programs at Athlete Eli, who specializes in transphobia and homophobia in sports. Tries to eliminate Said in an email on Wednesday.

One of the most complex and divisive issues in sports is the attempt to strike a balance between comprehensiveness and fairness, especially the qualifications of transgender and intersex athletes (competitors with specific male patterns of X and Y chromosomes). Is.

Reasonable arguments are given by both sides. Going through puberty as a man provides physical benefits that persist even after suppressing testosterone levels, such as wider shoulders, larger arms, longer torso, thicker muscles, and greater capacity of the heart and lungs.

In January, the International and European Sports Medicine Federations issued a joint statement stating that, in part, that high testosterone levels “provide a fundamental benefit for athletes in certain sports” and that To maintain the “integrity and fairness of the game”. Benefits “must be acknowledged and minimized.”

Despite this, there has been relatively little scientific research involving elite transgender athletes. And studies have not revealed the exact effects of testosterone on performance. The track and field governing body, which has made strict regulations on testosterone levels allowed, revised its research last year. She admitted that she could not confirm the relationship between the highest testosterone levels and the performance benefits for elite female athletes.

FINA left itself vulnerable to critics who accuse it of acting hastily and recklessly, retaliating against Thomas and seeking a solution to a problem that does not exist. The human rights campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights organization, has accused the swimming governing body of “targeting a specific transgender swimmer and heading for an avalanche of unannounced, racist attacks”.

Only one well-known transgender athlete has won an Olympic medal in the women’s event, the Canadian soccer player Queen, who was designated a woman at birth and was identified as a non-binary. And only two openly transgender female athletes have won the NCAA title – Thomas and CC Telfer, who won the 400-meter hurdles for Division II Franklin Pierce University in 2019.

Even in the victory, Thomas did not have a devastating performance at the NCAA Championships in March. Her time to win the 500-yard freestyle race was nine seconds away from the 2017 college record set by Katie Ladyki for Stanford. Thomas finished fifth in the 200 freestyle and last in the 100 freestyle final.

“It’s very unfortunate that FINA has made this decision,” Joanna Harper, a medical physicist who has extensively researched and written about transgender athletes, told The New York Times on Sunday. “Trans women aren’t handling women’s sports, and they’re not going.”

Will any other international sports federations follow the swimming lead? Some predict that the track and field may be the next, focusing on FINA’s thorny issue of which testosterone level should be justified. The principle of swimming prohibits transgender women from competing until they have passed one of the early stages of puberty, or until the age of 12, whichever is later, to stop the production of testosterone. Do not start medical treatment. There is much debate in the medical community about such early intervention.

Will the Court of Arbitration for Sports – a form of the Supreme Court for International Sports – reject the FINA’s decision if it is challenged? History tells otherwise.

South African champion runner Caster Simnia lost an attempt to overturn track and field testosterone laws before this court, effectively ending her Olympic career. CAS ruled in 2019 that Track’s policy was “discriminatory” but also “necessary, reasonable and proportionate” to ensure fair play in women’s competitions.

Two senior CAS arbitrators, including the central arbitrator in Seminia’s case, were among FINA’s legal and human rights experts and were convinced that the federation’s policy met “necessary and proportionate” standards, Dorian Lamblett Coleman said. , Who is a Duke law professor who specializes in sex. Gender and those who helped draft FINA’s policy said in an email on Wednesday.

Last November, the International Olympic Committee, without any evidence, warned against the notion that athletes have an unfair competitive advantage “because of their sexual orientation, physical appearance and / or transgender status.” But that was just a guideline. The IOC has delegated the determination of eligibility rules to international sports federations.

A more complicated situation can happen. Let’s say, for example, USA Swimming ignores FINA’s policy as the 2024 Paris Olympics come. This may leave Thomas in a strange position to qualify for the US Olympic team, but he may be disqualified from competing in Paris. FINA’s policy will prevail over USA’s swimming policy.

Only one thing seems certain, Tommy Lindbergh, a Swedish researcher who has studied transgender athletes, told The Times in 2020. “It will be impossible,” he said, “to please everyone.”

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