Women’s sport has been in the news this year, with a growing controversy over the participation of transwomen in women’s competitions. Kiwi Laurel Hubbard represented New Zealand in the Commonwealth Games women’s weightlifting event at the Gold Coast last year despite having competed in the men’s events, prior to gender transition, in 2014. Towering over younger competitors from neighbouring Pacific Countries, the physical advantage Hubbard carried from earlier male physiology was very obvious.

Laurel Hubbard represents New Zealand in the women’s 90kg+ weight category. Image source Newshub

More recently, Rachel McKinnon, a North American trans activist and academic, was in the news after winning a women’s track cycling event. Despite apparently meeting the rules regarding transgender participation for the event, the podium photo clearly demonstrated that McKinnon retained the physical advantage that came from being male during puberty and early adult life.

McKinnon re-entered the public eye in December after engaging lesbian feminist tennis legend Martina Navratilova in a Twitter argument over the fairness of allowing transwomen (male born persons who identify as women) open access to women’s sports events.

Rachel McKinnon (centre) and fellow competitors. Image Source: rachelvmckinnon Twitter

Most sporting regulatory bodies use the International Olympic Committee (IOC) 2016 regulations as the basis for trans participation in women’s sports events. In 2015 IOC rules removed the need for surgical treatments, and simply required the trans competitor to have reduced their testosterone level. New Zealand’s Olympic regulations require transgender competitors to have maintained a testosterone level of less than 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months. For comparison, testosterone levels for biological women are 0.12-1.79 nmol/L, and the normal male range is 7.7-29.4 nmol/L. This permits transgender competitors to enter women’s events with testosterone levels within the male range.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has recently implemented a lower testosterone limit of 5nmol/L. This is still well above the normal range for women, although some intersex women who have naturally high testosterone levels, such as Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand, will be affected by this change.

The physiological and anatomical effects of being exposed to testosterone during male adolescence do not disappear once testosterone suppressing drugs are taken. The height and musculature of Hubbard and McKinnon demonstrate this clearly. Reducing the category of “woman” to no more than a testosterone level for sporting purposes is rather reductive and offensive.

Arguing that transgender people have a fundamental human right to participation in sports, trans activists push for even less stringent regulation of their participation in women’s events. There are now concerted campaigns to remove the testosterone rule completely and allow participation in women’s events based on self-declared identity only. Some events have already allowed this, and in the 2018 Boston Marathon entry into the women’s race was solely on the basis of self-declared gender.

What does this mean for the future of women’s sport? Women have spent decades fighting for our own events, and for professional sportswomen to have parity with their male counterparts. Will women’s sporting competitions be opened up so that male-bodied athletes can participate on the basis of self-declaration alone?

  1. ” rather reductive and offensive ” ? Leave off the rather. It IS reductive and offensive. Biological Women have got to get tough on this and stop being so lily livered.
    Transsexuals can get there own damn sporting events.


  2. I absolutely agree that inclusion of transwomen makes a farce of women’s sport, but can I add a note of caution to this article. Readers are invited to judge a person’s sexuality from the photo, encouraging judgement on a outwardly physical appearance. I have a daughter (biological) who according to some people has an androgynous appearance, not helped by a medical condition that stimulates hair growth and her own attitude of not kowtowing to expectations of how women should look. She has recently received aggressive behavior from an individual when trying to use a public toilet. Lets not undermine the legitimacy of this article by encouraging the ignorant and hysterical.


  3. There is so much evidence that males retain a physical advantage compared to women when they transition post adolescence. Even with reduced testosterone levels. Especially so if they were training and competing as athletes/sportsmen prior to transition, and, continue after. Presumably the IOC and other sport regulatory bodies have even greater access to scientific research papers, studies and reports than lay people and non-academics. They must see that there is not a level playing field. I watch and follow women’s sport to see women compete and excel as women. Women have had to fight so hard and so long for the what we have. Every natal male trans who gets a place in women’s sporting competition displaces a natal female who would have been in that place. Every single one! Every single time! So wrong, so unfair.


  4. Daphna Whitmore January 13, 2019 at 4:48 am

    Looking at comments around this in other forums most people completely understand how unfair it is for men to compete in women’s sporting categories. It is just the most fanatical trans activists who are insisting that trans should compete against women. Looking at the photos of Hubbard and McKinnon it is striking how different their physiques are to the women. On average men have a 25 percent greater lung capacity. Even when allowing for the greater height of these two compared to the women, if they were matched for height and age there would be a 10 to 12 percent difference in lung capacity as womens’ torsos are shaped to allow abdominal displacement in pregnancy. Men have larger hearts, with thicker heart muscle and greater blood volume output. The trans rights activists are so happy to trample over women’s rights it is astounding.


  5. I’m more concerned about not being able to use a public restroom without it being invaded by dicks,
    which would further limit women’s mobility. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if women would just
    stay at “home” barefoot & pregnant like they’re supposed to. If you don’t know what I’m talking about
    you can read up on “herstory” in Gyn/Ecology by Mary Daly.


  6. OK, I’m a bloke so I might come from a different angle.

    Women’s sports exist so that women can compete against similar others without being overwhelmed by men. And if we are really honest, in most sports the men will do better. Therefore we separate women out. Unfortunately, to do this we have to have some definition of women so that men can’t compete and win. a line has to be drawn.

    Despite arguments that gender transition therapy does have an effect on musculature, that twitch responses are different afterwards etc., the fact remains that a man who undergoes such therapy retains the unfair advantage of much of his skeletal-muscular maleness.

    It is NOT sexist to define a woman for sporting purposes, say that women must have less than a certain amount of testosterone, more than a certain amount of oestrogen or that physical attributes count (she should have a vagina at least). It IS UNFAIR that someone who has grown up as a man can compete against women because he has had therapy.

    Caster Semenya has extraordinary high levels of testosterone. This DOES give her an unfair advantage. If this is because she has internal testes rather than ovaries, which has been suggested, then she should not fall within the criteria of being a woman for sporting purposes.

    Most men’s sports are actually open, the likes of Caster Semenya, Rachel MacKinnon and Laurel Hubbard can compete in men’s sports. They just wouldn’t win anything.


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