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

  • 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

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