The world watched this week as transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard ‘made history’ by competing in the women’s weightlifting category at the Tokyo Olympics.
Whilst Hubbard met the International Olympic Committee’s 2015 requirements, which for weightlifting athletes includes reducing their testosterone to below a certain level after transitioning, the unfairness of these guidelines and their negative impact on opportunities for biological females to compete has drawn criticism from athletes and advocacy organisations alike.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen referred to the decision to allow Hubbard to compete as “like a bad joke”:
“Life changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifications – and we are powerless.”
Save Women’s Sport advocates are also speaking out about the unfair guidelines that allow transgender athletes to compete in women’s sport in Australia.
In 2019, Sport Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission released ‘Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport’. Last year, peak Australian sporting bodies implemented policies based on these guidelines, to promote a more inclusive and welcoming environment in sport.
In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Save Women’s Sport Australasia co-founder Katherine Deves said she had been contacted by administrators and volunteers from community sports concerned about the implications of the 2019 guidelines. They raised safety issues such as the greater risk of injury to females competing against trans athletes in contact sports, as well as young female athletes sharing changing rooms and overnight accommodation with biological males.
Ms Deves said the latter did not have to be disclosed to parents. “So a young daughter on a netball camp can be billeted with a 15-year old male and that’s not being disclosed.”
In the same interview, our CEO Rachael Wong said that some people might think that because New Zealand weightlifter Hubbard ultimately didn’t win, that there’s no unfairness in allowing trans athletes to compete in women’s sports.
“But biological men competing in women’s sport is unfair in more ways than one. Not only do trans athletes have a biological advantage within a competition like the Olympics, their inclusion means that women who would otherwise have a chance to compete miss out,” she said.
Coalition for Biological Reality spokeswoman Stassja Free said that the fact Hubbard, who is 43 years old, qualified for an event where the women competing were in their 20s “is proof of that unfair advantage”.
All three women want the 2019 guidelines scrapped and for a proper consultation to take place with female athletes.
We have separate categories for women and men in sport for a reason. While trans athletes may meet reduced testosterone requirements, this does not negate the physiological advantages gained by going through male puberty, such as greater muscle mass and bone density. This much was confirmed by reviews in top sports medical journals this year – one of the reviews was even first authored by a trans woman – Joanna Harper.
It is not an easy situation for trans athletes, but to allow them to compete in women’s sport is not the answer. This is something that we need to be able to have a reasonable discussion about, because in championing ‘inclusivity’ for trans athletes we are ultimately excluding women from their own sports.