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Barring trans women from women’s sports is unnecessary and against the Olympic charter

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It’s important to have a conversation about how to include trans women in sports, not whether to include them.

CYCLING-ENG-TRACK-WORLD-GENDER Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

It’s been disheartening to watch some of the recent conversation about inclusion of trans women in women’s sports.

While I think there are well-meaning participants on most sides of the debate, there’s one angle that just doesn’t sit well and doesn’t line up with what I’ve learned in my research into the topic.

As I’ve educated myself about the issue of trans women in women’s sports, I’ve spoken to people – trans, cis and non-binary – about their perspectives of the ideal trans-inclusion policies in sports. I have a lot of respect for the insights and experiences of every single one of them, and each of them has offered a different idea on what those policies might look like.

There aren’t two sides to the debate, there are many.

Yet there’s a group of people who claim there is no “fair” conclusion in the debate other than banning all trans women from women’s sports.

I find that conclusion ill-informed, mean-spirited and – maybe most importantly – unnecessary.

It also doesn’t align with the Olympic charter, which lays out one particular concept that is ultimately the highest ideal of sport:

Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

In my 15 years of covering trans athletes, and my more intense research this year, I have seen no evidence to date that the appropriate policy is to entirely exclude trans women from women’s sports.

Rather, what’s emerged for me is that the debate should revolve around how we include those women in women’s sports, not whether we include them.

Take Olympic-level sports, for instance. The current Olympic trans-inclusion policy mandates testosterone levels of 10 nmol/L for at least one year before a trans woman is eligible to compete in women’s sports at the Olympics. Various sports are currently reviewing that policy.

We can have a debate about whether that policy is too strict or too loose. We can have conversations about whether the mandated testosterone level should be 5 nmol/L, 10 nmol/L, or some other level. We can debate whether those levels should be maintained for one year, two years, five years before the athlete is eligible.

These conversations are important to have. It’s important for everyone that we get this right.

It’s the same for every level of sport. Some states allow trans high school athletes to compete in women’s sports with a basic declaration of their gender. Others make it harder. Again, we can have upstanding conversations about the best policy with many different perspectives.

What seems to be wasting the time and energy of so many people is this unnecessary idea that trans women have no place in women’s sports at all.

It’s an unnecessary conversation because science and medicine can “level the playing field” between the average trans athlete and the average cis athlete. And that’s really what upstanding players in the conversation are debating.

Without the influence of hormones, hormone blockers and PEDs, the average and fastest XY people are stronger and faster than the average and fastest XX people. That’s reality.

Women’s sports have for decades existed in large part to create opportunities for women who have found it difficult to compete, particularly at elite levels, with men.

People who championed the building and strengthening of women’s sports in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties weren’t really thinking about trans women as they created policy.

Yet here we are in 2019 with a growing trans population who increasingly want to use sports to affirm who they are as people, just as every other athlete who competes.

We can get to a place where we are building opportunities for cis women to compete and win, and at the same time we’re including trans women on that journey and protecting their ability to compete and win. Women’s sports can grow. For all women. Full stop.

But we can’t get there when the debate is hijacked by people claiming all trans women need to be banned from women’s sports.

If we are to hold sports by the Olympic ideal requiring “mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship,” then we have to stop talking about targeting trans women in that way. Sports are designed to bring people of all walks of life together and increase understanding.

Let’s make sure we all live up to that lofty ideal and find a path forward for trans women to compete as the gender they are — women.