Who speaks for sport?

Allowing trans women to compete as females is an ideological attack on objective reality and possibly the biggest leadership blunder in sport history.

When it had the most direct chance of changing its transgender athlete participation rules, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) instead decided to ditch its own policy and follow those set by individual national sport governing bodies (NGBs). In the case of Lia Thomas, a trans woman swimming at the University of Pennsylvania and who is the nexus of the current uproar in the common sense wing of the sports world, this meant that USA Swimming's transgender policy would prevail.

Just this week USA Swimming released a revised policy, which probably gives an inside look at what the International Amateur Swimming Federation (FINA) will adopt in the near future. FINA is revising its policy after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) deferred to individual sport federations on the matter last year.

These revisions are necessary because national and international sport governing bodies have botched the incorporation of transgender athletes into sport since the IOC introduced its first policy in 2003, which included gender reassignment surgery as one of the requirements. Emerging concepts of human rights prompted the IOC to drop the surgery requirement in 2015; it settled on hormone suppression for at least one year and limiting serum testosterone (T) to 10 nmol/L or less.

This policy was in effect during the Tokyo Olympic Games when Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter, became the first trans women to compete in the Olympics. She did not advance to the final rounds of her weight class, thus did not medal. Following the Games, and after narrowly avoiding the public relations fiasco that would have occurred if Hubbard had medaled, the IOC passed the responsibility for setting transgender requirements to the individual federations. This was partly in recognition that different sports may have differing degrees of sex-related performance factors and partly to just get out from under the transgender athlete buzzsaw, which was a growing concern in several countries and among various sports.

No one can say what would have happened if Hubbard did advance to the final rounds and won a medal; she wasn't ranked as one of the top entrants to begin with. This, and the fact that she didn't medal, bolsters the oft used activist argument that there is no evidence that trans women have an advantage over natal females in sport, certainly a ridiculous argument but to say so incurs the wrath of Wokus Dei.

The current situation with Lia Thomas is different. Thomas has already turned in performances that could easily challenge American records in the upcoming NCAA championship. Since the NCAA limits the number of participants in each of its championship events, Thomas will displace a natal female from the competition. If she does set any new marks she could erase names like Katie Ledecky and Missy Franklin from the record books. With these possibilities looming, it became obvious how unfair and misguided current transgender policies are and it didn't take long before it erupted into a media firestorm.

For a step-by-step recap of the story so far read David Rieder's summary in Swimming World.

What is the new USA Swimming transgender policy?

On 2 February USA Swimming released a new transgender policy called the Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equity and Eligibility Policy. It has two primary requirements. One is new, the other seems to be a tripling down on previous rules:

  • Evidence that the prior physical development of the athlete as a male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.
  • Evidence that the concentration of testosterone in the athlete’s serum has been less than 5 nmol/L (as measured by liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry) continuously for a period of at least thirty-six (36) months before the date of application.

As to the first point: How can an athlete show evidence of not having an advantage? The policy notes that a new Elite Athlete/Event Fairness Panel of "...three independent medical experts, with preference for experience related to transgender health and/or the physical performance of transgender athletes relevant to swimming and the effect of medical approaches in mitigating any pre-existing physical advantages" will decide on a case by case basis. Presumably the method of showing this non-advantage is left up to the panel, the policy doesn't spell it out. Opaqueness is not a good strategy for such a controversial issue.

The rationale for the second requirement is that if serum T can be maintained at 5 nmol/L or less then performance will be degraded to the level of female athletes. This was the basis of the IOC's previous policy, which set the level at 10 nmol/L but, as I wrote previously, reducing T levels has not been shown to have any significant effect on degrading male athletic performance especially not to the same level as a female.

If there is a way for an athlete to show that they do not have a male puberty advantage as referred to in the first point above and are able to maintain 5 nmol/L or less in contemporaneous serum T measurements then maybe some kind of equality of performance could be achieved. This is speculation, of course, and it's based on something that is probably impossible — showing no advantage from male development — but it does acknowledge that male puberty is the source of the unfair performance advantage trans women have over natal females. The solution to this is obvious but the new policy ignored it in favor of something opaque, convoluted, and over-scienced.

The new policy also doesn't address the health effects resulting from long-term hormone suppression, which requires medical intervention to overcome a natural process. Is this healthy? Have the health effects even been considered, especially since the policy may be requiring risky, long-term treatment? Would transgender athletes be taking suppression therapy to this level and for this long if they weren't competing in sports? And at what point does a sport policy become abusive when it requires risky treatments merely to support an ideology?

The policy leaves in place USA Swimming's two-tier distinction between elite level athletes, as defined in the policy, and then everybody else. The only step a transgender athlete has to take at the non-elite level is to self-identify as a different gender. This is not a restriction although it's written to sound like one. This is the same as having no policy at all.

Who speaks for sport?

In a public statement released immediately after the NCAA decided that they would defer to each NGB for transgender participation requirements, USA Swimming signaled its belief in inclusion and fair competition. These are two laudable goals, why would anyone not be in favor of them? But from the way inclusion was explained, anyone who hoped that the NGB would use common sense and just say no to trans women being allowed in the female category was disappointed.

"USA Swimming firmly believes in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression (highlight added). We also strongly believe in competitive equity, and, like many, are doing our best to learn and educate ourselves on the appropriate balance in this space," the organization said.

The mindset that produced such a virtue signaling statement is also evident in the policy document itself, which uses such language as "...biological gender assigned to the athlete at birth" and other woke lingo. And when it creates a scientific juggernaut of a committee to decide if a trans woman has supplied sufficient evidence that "From a medical perspective, the prior physical development of the athlete as a Male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender Female competitors." Seriously, how can one prove such a thing? Over-sciencing is a common tactic when one wants to make something seem more complicated than it really is and that's exactly what's happening here. Throw more science at it and soon enough you have something that only 'experts' are capable of dealing with and the average Joe who points out what everyone clearly sees as an unfair situation is labeled as a bigot.

This policy is a common sense disaster. What parent wants a youth sport experience that has unfairness built into its competitive structure? Sport without fair competition is no longer sport. Trust is a valuable commodity and sport can't function without it. Can we trust current leadership? Do we have confidence they are doing the right thing or are they kowtowing to a social agenda, ready to change the construct of sport as we currently know it to something more acceptable to, shall we say, a different viewpoint. The wokeratti claim that trans women are women, this is the world as they dream it and this is what is implicitly recognized in the new USA Swimming policy. Question that claim and you are a transphobic bigot. Reality has been replaced with feelings. Logic has died.

We have changed language to accommodate a fantasy, and sacrificed common sense to support a social agenda. Instead of doing research first we simply came up with policy and are now using science to try and prove what we want to be true. This is where we are right now. Allowing trans women to compete as females is an ideological attack on objective reality and possibly the biggest leadership blunder in sport history.