Where sex matters | Sport

Sport

Policies which allow males to play in women’s sport are not supported by evidence. They are unfair and unsafe.

Sport is divided into male and female categories for very good reason. Men are taller, faster and stronger. They have bigger bones, longer limbs, wider hand spans, wider shoulders and a narrower pelvis than women. They have larger and denser muscles, with a higher proportion of fast twitch fibres, and larger hearts and lungs. These are the result of being born with a male body and going through male puberty.

Even from a very young age, boys perform better in tests of speed, power and strength. Each year, thousands of boys and men outperform elite females.

Female excellence, participation and safety in sport depends on sex-segregation. Female athletes at every level will lose if they have to compete with and against males.

What is the problem?

In recent years the female category has been opened up to male athletes who identify as women, on the basis of weak evidence and guidance to prioritise inclusion based on gender identity ahead of fairness and inclusion for female athletes.

National and international sport governing bodies, schools, colleges, local sport clubs and the International Olympic Committee all permit males to play in female sport. At school level, males need only declare a female gender identity to be included. For adults, policies are based on a requirement to reduce testosterone levels for 12 months.

Any male advantage carried through to the female category undermines the protections that category intends to provide, and that female athletes are losing medals and opportunities to those with such male advantage.

Dozens of studies of physical changes in males suppressing testosterone (either because of transgender identity or as part of therapeutic treatment for testosterone-related illness) show that muscle mass, strength and skeletal differences between males and females remain large. Furthermore, the small negative effect of testosterone suppression on muscle loss can be entirely mitigated by the type of moderate resistance training we would expect athletes to participate in.

World Rugby has taken this evidence on board, but other sports authorities are continuing to support male athletes playing in women’s sports.

Updates

  • Interpreting the law canbe hard – we've made it easy for you

    Sex and the law – share our short guide

    What does intersex mean? Are you allowed to mention someone’s sex if they don’t want you to? Has someone with a gender recognition certificate changed their sex? Do you have the right to privacy when you’re taking your clothes off? Is it discrimination to keep male people out of...

    4th August 2022

  • Sex Matters response to “More in Common”

    More in Common is an organisation that seeks to “build societies and communities that are “stronger, more united, and more resilient to the increasing threats of polarisation and social division”.  Perhaps as a response to this challenge from Maya Forstater, it has applied its approach to the gender wars....

    16th June 2022

  • Sex-based rights groups make formal bid to sponsor women’s cycle race

    Women’s cycling race saved after campaigns raise public support

    UPDATE : Saturday 16th April

    Sex Matters and Fair Play For Women welcome the announcement that the Women’s CiCLE Classic has been saved, with an offer of a three-year sponsorship deal being finalised by the race organiser.

    13th April 2022

  • British Cycling and Emily Bridges

    Sex Matters welcomes the statement from British Cycling that Emily Bridges is not eligible to participate in the British National Omnium Championship on Saturday 2nd April 2022, following the application of Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) guidelines. British Cycling has chosen to recognise Emily’s disappointment, but not the distress, anger, and...

    30th March 2022

  • Italy vs Spain during 2013 Women's European Qualification Tournament, by Carlos Delgado, Creative Commons licence

    Women in sport, gender identity and the Equality Act

    Cathy Devine’s article ‘Female Sports Participation, Gender Identity and the British 2010 Equality Act’ was published in the journal Sport, Ethics and Philosophy (open access version). In this guest post, Cathy Devine explains her findings on the impact of “self-identification eligibility criteria” on women in sport. If the criteria...

    11th November 2021

  • EHRC to issue guidance on single-sex and separate-sex services

    Baroness Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has told ministers that the body is acting on a request by MPs to issue hospitals, schools, prisons and private firms with “worked examples and guidance” that will “provide clarity … on the provision of single-sex services.” It is...

    18th October 2021

  • Inclusion or Fairness: New Guidance for Sport in the UK

    Sex Matters response to the Sports Council Equality Group Guidance on Transgender Inclusion. On September 30, the Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG), which is composed of members of the five major sports councils within the United Kingdom, published new guidance for UK National Governing Bodies and Sports Governing Bodies....

    30th September 2021

  • Truth and reconciliation

    How should the public sector leave the Stonewall Champions Scheme?

    6th June 2021

  • Time to #LeaveStonewall

    This is the letter we have sent to the CEOs of the 850 organisations that are members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme. Re: Leaving the Stonewall Diversity Champions Scheme We are writing to call on you to withdraw from the scheme, both for the sake of your own...

    29th May 2021

  • Sex Matters in cycling

    Our response to British Cycling

    British Cycling is the national governing body for recreational and competitive cycle sports in Great Britain. In March 2021, they announced a new policy to address the participation of transgender and non-binary athletes in cycling events, and opened it for consultation. Their policy is that in order to provide...

    14th May 2021

  • Two new scientific reviews agree that transwomen athletes retain male advantage

    The debate around inclusion of transgender athletes – and in particular whether biological males who identify as women should play in female sporting competitions and teams – is a fraught one. On one hand are those who advocate for fairness, and protection for the female category in sport; on...

    7th March 2021

  • Martina Navratilova seeks fair rules over women’s sport

    Martina Navratilova and other sportswomen have launched a campaign to amend US President Biden’s Executive Order which demands sports participation based on gender identity. The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group is proposing a carve out at the “higher level” of High School, College and elite sport. “There have been...

    3rd February 2021

Other resources

  • Women's Rights Network

    Women’s Rights Network

    Combined grassroots groups of women who oppose sex self-ID. Supports local, in-person networking. Has topic-related groups (such as sports, prisons, schools) that create resources, including videos and podcasts and social-media posts, and coordinate national campaigns. Was a core member of the “Respect My Sex” campaign before the local elections...

  • Fair Play For Women

    Fair Play For Women

    Campaigning and consultancy group which raises awareness, provides evidence and analysis, and supports policy-makers to protect the rights of women and girls in the UK. Opposes sex self-ID, and also played a large part in the government’s decision to abandon plans to introduce it in England and Wales in...

  • Fair Game: biology, fairness and transgender athletes in women’s sports

    Jon Pike, Emma Hilton, and Leslie A. Howe lay out the physical advantages of athletes who are born male, and reject gender-based criteria for competition, proposing instead a solution that will allow all athletes to compete fairly.

  • Quillette

    On the issue of female athletics, the IOC has shirked its duty to lead

    Doriane Coleman and Martina Navratilova analyse the recent IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion, and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations

  • Sports Council Equality Group

    Guidance for transgender inclusion in domestic sport

    September 2021 report based on the latest research, evidence and studies from the Sports Councils’ Equality Group, made up of the five Sports Councils responsible for supporting and investing in sport across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

  • Female Sports Participation, Gender Identity and the British 2010 Equality Act

    Cathy Devine’s manuscript copy of her paper in Sport, Ethics and Philosophy, which investigates the impact on the inclusion of girls and women, of eligibility policies adopting ‘self-identification of gender’ guidelines for the inclusion of transgender people in sport, at participation rather than elite levels. 

  • Sports Medicine volume 51

    Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage

    This paper reviews how differences between males and females affect sporting performance and assess the evidence on testosterone suppression in removing the male performance advantage.

  • Margaret Wambui and Francine Niyonsaba, photographed at the Olympic 800m semifinals in Rio de Janeiro on August 18, 2016.

    A victory for female athletes everywhere

    Doriane Lambelet Coleman explains the regulations about eligibility for the women’s category in international elite athletics competition; why they matter, and why there are so many athletes with a 46, XY DSD.

Publications