May 25, 2022


Fairness in Sport

By: Julia Canzano

In 2021, the New York Road Runners (NYRR) added a non-binary division for applicants hoping to secure their spot in the New York City Marathon using a time qualification. As one of the 6 Abbott World Marathon Majors, the New York City Marathon is one of the most prestigious and difficult races to qualify for—and yet the time standards for the non-binary division are the same as the women’s division. Runners simply need to declare themselves non-binary when registering, meaning that a biological male can qualify for the NYC Marathon using the women’s standards.  

The decision to create a more inclusive running environment comes at a time when the International Olympic Committee has ruled that transgender athletes “should be allowed to compete in the category that best aligns with their self-determined gender identity.” The NCAA has also affirmed this decision, but has added that transgender athletes must document their testosterone levels throughout their competition season.  

In the spirit of inclusivity, organizations like the NCAA and the NYRR have put the future of women’s sports at risk. Allowing transgender women to compete in women’s sports is the opposite of progress, creates far more negative outcomes than positive ones, and they should be required to compete in sport in accordance with their biological sex.. 

Supporters of transgender athletes are ignoring the physical advantages a transgender woman has over a biological woman. Even if an athlete takes hormone blockers, at the college level and beyond athletics there are some things an athlete can’t reverse. 

A study by the Center for Sports Law and Policy at Duke University found that on the track, over 4,000 men outperformed the fastest women’s 400-meter time- this happened almost 14,000 times in 2017 alone. Another study published in Sports Medicine found that even after 12 months of testosterone suppression,  “the loss of lean body mass, muscle area, and strength typically amounts to approximately 5%”. 

While measuring testosterone levels may be the easiest way to gauge whether a transgender woman can compete in the women’s division, this measurement doesn’t tell the full story. Even though transgender athletes may not be dominating over female athletes, they would have performed at an average level as a male athlete and are now competing at the highest level against female athletes. Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, was ranked 554th in the men’s division of the 500 yard freestyle, but 1st in the women’s division, even after testosterone suppression. 

Additionally, allowing transgender athletes to compete creates a psychologically damaging environment for all athletes competing. For female athletes, they must worry about qualification spots or awards being taken away by individuals who have an innate advantage. For transgender athletes, they must face the external pressure from the media, coaches, and other athletes as well as the physiological and mental challenges of medically transitioning. Sports and competition should be a healthy addition to life for both groups, not something that negatively impacts them. Sports governing bodies need to consider this when deciding whether they should allow transgender athletes to compete in women’s divisions. 

There are also multiple instances where transgender athletes have taken a spot from a biological woman who has worked her entire life to make it to the top of their sport. Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard represented New Zealand at the 2021 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Hubbard previously competed in the men’s division before transitioning in 2013. Only 3 women were selected for the team based off of international rankings, meaning that some woman missed out on a spot at the 2021 Olympic Games because it was taken by an athlete that from a physiological level, had every advantage before a weight was even lifted. 

The same goes for Reka Gyorgy. Gyorgy is a 5th year senior at Virginia Tech and finished 17th in the prelims of the 2022 NCAA Division I 500 yard freestyle. Lia Thomas finished first in the competition, meaning that Gyorgy’s shot at competing in the finals was over since only the top 16 competed in the finals competition.

By allowing transgender women to compete in the women’s division in their respective sport, the future of women’s sports is threatened. So where do women’s sports and sports governing bodies go from here?

The easiest and most logical solution would be to require athletes to compete in the category that matches their biological sex, since that is impossible to change. But since there is precedent to allow transgender athletes to compete in the category they identify with, the next best and fair solution would be to create an open division for sports where a standard can be set, such as the non-binary category at the New York City marathon. 

However, standards should be set at the men’s level for qualification or at the very least, slightly higher than the women’s standards. For sports where no standard can be set, such as team sports, athletes should be required to compete in the category that matches their biological sex, if the goal is to make the new rules as fair as possible.