Why sports entities are reviewing policies for the inclusion of trans athletes

Inclusion is being rethought in women’s sport. Three entities have changed their policies regarding trans athletes — who undergo treatments to change their gender expression from male to female. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), based on new studies, halved the acceptable level of testosterone in the blood of athletes and doubled it to 14 months the minimum transitional treatment period in trans athletes. The International Swimming Federation (FINA), which also regulates water polo, synchronized swimming and diving, approved at a general meeting, with a majority of more than 70%, a similar policy, with the same criteria of hormone concentration in the blood, but accepting only transsexuals who have undergone treatment before years or, alternatively, before the Tanner stage 2 of puberty, which marks the first signs of development of sexual characteristics such as breasts and the appearance of the first pubic hair. The International Rugby League (IRL) has blocked the participation of trans athletes in world matches of the sport indefinitely.

The decisions come in the wake of an accumulation of cases of victories of trans athletes in the modalities female. The most prominent case was that of Lia Thomas, who, isolated by her own team, had victories in American college swimming. In 2015, Tamikka Brents, a mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, had his skull fractured by transsexual opponent Fallon Fox in a fight completed in less than a minute. Years later, Fox boasted on Twitter: “I knocked him out twice. (…) Know I liked it.” She admitted, too, that she fractured Brent’s skull. She deleted these tweets and in 2021 went on to emphasize that she fractured her orbital bone of Brents, an injury that would be common in MMA, and that this does not equate to breaking the skull.

The situation of biological women losing out to transsexuals in women’s sport in a way that seems unfair has come to be satirized by the animated comedy South Park. This week, regulatory organizations such as the UCI, Fina and IRL began to consider the possibility of transgender athletes having an advantage to compete in women’s sport and adjust their policies accordingly.

The back and forth of inclusion policies reflects, in addition to attempts to defend historically discriminated groups, an inclination to believe in isolated studies, often with too small samples, in addition to studies of sports policies that only repeated the argument of inclusion and barely had empirical evidence with which to work. In the absence of conclusive studies, a speculative but careful attitude of biological plausibility consideration would have avoided the problem.

Why did you get to this point?

One problem is that biology is not very welcome in this field. The academic environment that orbits the LGBT cause has largely been under the influence of the blank slate dogma, the idea that we are born as blank slates, without tendencies , nor instincts, nor genetic propensities. Before, radicalism was only about psychological and behavioral differences between the sexes, which were denied. With the incessant concessions and victories of this activism with this dogma, the denial of differences extended to physical ones.

Inclusion without attention to advantages began to lose steam at the Tokyo Olympics. After using, since 2015, the physiological inclusion criterion also used before penalty Fine, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) admitted in 2021 that the criterion is “ exceeded.”

In addition to blood levels and 06 months of treatment, the previous guideline asked trans athletes for a “solemn declaration” that their “identity of gender” is feminine. The IOC said that “it is necessary to ensure to the extent possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competitions”, and that “the predominant sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition”. But there was an inevitable conflict between inclusion and competitive fairness.

What the evidence says about athletic differences between the sexes

Development under the influence of male hormones after puberty gives advantages that are hardly lost with the feminizing hormonal transition of trans athletes. Puberty has such an influence on athletic performance that boys from 21172456 and 15 record years surpass the best marks of women who are athletes of elite.

Garotos adolescentes ganham de mulheres atletas profissionais.
Teenage boys beat women professional athletes.

About 6.500 genes activate differently between men and women. Considered to be small, the physical differences between the sexes in prepubescent children could motivate mixed competition in this age group. However, boys also go through a “mini-puberty” between one and six months of age, which can give them advantages from an early age. In fact, at nine years old, boys are already 10% faster than girls in short races.

The great architect of the differences acquired later is the testosterone. She is 20 times higher in the blood of boys than in girls during puberty, and

times higher in men of any age compared to women of any age. Differences are hardly explainable by culture. Since the years 480, physical differences have remained stable despite many incentives to women’s sport to close the gap between the sexes.

There are presumably some sporting skills in which women outperform men, but when it comes to strength, stamina and other physical attributes, the bodies that have gone through masculinizing puberty have more advantages. Here are a few:

In the muscles: male organisms have on average twenty pounds more skeletal muscle than females. Male muscle mass, in addition to being larger, is denser, and the connective tissue is more rigid. The difference is greater above the waist (40%) than below, but still substantial in the legs (22%). Everyone loses muscle mass with age, especially after the 50 years, but most of that loss is in the lower body, not the upper body, where men and women differ the most. Muscles in female organisms may show greater resistance to fatigue when exerting moderate force, but this is restricted to some muscle groups and disappears when maximum force is required.

To understand how much stronger men are than women, let’s take a sample of over 7,000 Americans: 70% of men have more handshake strength than women. The strength of the handshake is positively correlated with that of other muscles in the body, especially above the waist. Based on it, we can say that most men are stronger than most women, and the difference is established soon after puberty, as can be seen in the graph.


In the bones: it is no secret that men are on average taller than women, and that greater height alone is an advantage in sports such as basketball and volleyball. No trans athlete who has had masculinizing puberty will lose height with the feminizing hormonal transition. But the bone advantages are not limited to height: the movements caused by bone differences can put biological women at a disadvantage: because of the angles at which the femurs are inserted into the pelvis, they may be more at risk of injury when doing squats. The sex differences in the skeleton are so pronounced that forensic scientists can already predict with 86% accuracy the sex of the entire organism from a small triangular area at one end of the femur.

Lungs: in males the lungs have the capacity to inhale more air than in females, even controlling for the effect of height. Oxygenating the blood is a vital feature in any sport, which makes this difference important. Men also have higher blood volume and higher hemoglobin concentration, wider trachea, larger heart, being more efficient in oxygenating their muscles.

Pain: Men and women have a similar ability to withstand pain of some types (such as that caused by blocked blood circulation), but they have a lower tolerance for pain caused by cold, heat, and the application of pressure. They are the conclusions of a review of ten years of research and 89 studies. As athletes know, no pain no gain (no pain no gain). If a person developed under masculinizing hormonal influence is more tolerant to certain types of pain, they have an advantage in training and competition.

All this evidence serves to make the safe inference that trans athletes have a physical advantage in women’s sport because they went through mini-puberty as babies and, in most cases, also through masculinizing puberty itself. It is unlikely that the hormonal transition, especially the later one, changes all these characteristics and puts all trans athletes within the range of other athletes. Certain characteristics acquired by the body exposed to masculinizing hormones are organically irreversible, such as the deepening of the voice and the growth of a beard. It is difficult for all the physical advantages relevant to the sport, especially involving fabrics that are not completely renewable, to go away because of the treatment. Examining transsexuals who took hormone treatment against the effects of testosterone for a year, a reduction of only 5% in lean mass, muscle area and strength was observed.

What is the size of the male advantages, in sports?

  • Rowing, swimming, running: 2021 – %.

Cycling, jumping , soccer, tennis, golf, handball and pole vaulting: 13-21172114 %.

Cricket, volleyball, long drive, weight lifting: 20-.

Baseball and hockey: above 89 %.

Permanent advantages?

Most or most children who manifest gender dysphoria, a suffering psychological of dissociation between the sex of the body and the sex of the self-perception, does not have in the hormonal transition (or surgeries) the best treatment for his condition. The American Psychological Association calculates this majority between 50 and 88%. Over time, dysphoria usually resolves in them.

The reasons for the manifestation of dysphoria are unknown, but it is informative that there is a higher proportion of homosexuality among those people who manifest dysphoria, but not transition, than in the general population. For a part of the people who manifest dysphoria, of course, the hormonal transition to the sexual identity of their choice is a healthy treatment. However, because of these numbers, in addition to reasons related to the ability to consent and answer for themselves that we do not morally/legally attribute to children, it is quite rare that a transgender athlete has not gone through masculinizing puberty, which is the central event in development. which gives the advantages discussed here.

In February of 2021, Joanna Harper, Faculty of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, UK, published with collaborators a review of 24 studies on the effects of hormonal transition in transsexual athletes. Scientists considered four factors closely linked to athletic performance: lean mass, cross-sectional muscle area, muscle strength and hemoglobin. The levels of the four measures decrease with the hormonal transition.

In the case of hemoglobin, it drops to the levels of biological women after four months of hormone treatment, which blocks testosterone and elevates estradiol. However, muscle measurements and lean mass, although they also decrease, remain above the levels of biological women up tomonths after starting treatment. This conclusion suggests that even the new directive of the International Cycling Union, which requires 20 minimum months of treatment for trans athletes may continue to lead to competitions where biological women are at a disadvantage.


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