Sport Trans women have advantages, but here's why Hubbard should not be banned from the Olympics

04:57  02 august  2021
04:57  02 august  2021 Source:   smh.com.au

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But Hubbard ’ s inclusion is not based on having the necessary equipment, neither gender-specific genitalia nor, in this case, a whopping great set of weights, support harness and a sack full of resin powder. What they do want to see, however, is a level of testosterone in serum below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months. Go figure. While this attempt to level the playing field might be accepted by the Olympics ’ governing body, there are scientific papers that suggest having gone through puberty and development as a male gives a physical advantage to an athlete in terms of bone and muscle

Harsh doping rules have seen sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson banned from the Olympics over recreational cannabis use at the same time as a weightlifter born as a man is competing against women . In weightlifting, the event in which Laurel Hubbard competes and is ranked 17th in the world, the advantage can be up to 30 percent. Cannabis affords no such edge. Former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, who has bravely ventured into the debate over the athlete formerly known as Gavin Hubbard , has suggested that if transgender competitors are allowed to compete as female

In this April 9, 2018 file photo, New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard lifts in the snatch of the women's +90kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. Hubbard will be the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. Hubbard is among five athletes confirmed on New Zealand's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games. © (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein,File) In this April 9, 2018 file photo, New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard lifts in the snatch of the women's +90kg weightlifting final at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia. Hubbard will be the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. Hubbard is among five athletes confirmed on New Zealand's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games.

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On Monday, the eyes of the world will be on Laurel Hubbard as she becomes the first openly transgender (or trans) woman to compete in the Olympic Games.

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Dr Harper (pictured left here with former tennis star Martina Navratilova) maintains that hormone treatment for trans women mitigates the advantages of strength they would enjoy competing against women in sporting events. 'I'm not 100 per cent convinced (that the advantages have been mitigated), no, but I think that, again, the Olympics are happening, and I think that having Laurel Hubbard and other trans athletes in games is not markedly unfair.' The comments come as Hubbard thanked the International Olympic Committee for the inclusive policies that will allow her to compete

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says that inclusion is important, too. To that end, it has decreed that males who feel themselves to be women may compete in the women ’ s events. The only stipulation, besides declaring their commitment to their desired “gender,” is that such athletes take a pill daily to lower their It’ s obvious to all that a 43-year-old female is not competing. Laurel is a transwoman, by definition born male. The physiological and anatomical differences between the sexes are so many and so patently obvious that no one is arguing to sweep aside sex categories in sport.

Hubbard is competing in the super heavyweight division (87+ kilograms) of the weightlifting competition, and there are plenty of people who aren't happy about her presence in Tokyo. It has been suggested in many corners that Hubbard has an unfair advantage over the cisgender (or typical) women in her category, and that the Olympic guidelines allowing trans women to compete against cisgender women after lowering their testosterone are flawed. Allow me to examine those claims and to raise some additional points.

First off, it is true that, as a population group, trans women have athletic advantages over cisgender women. On average, trans women will be taller, bigger and stronger than cisgender women even after gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT). These attributes are all advantages in many sports.

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And here ' s the important difference. We can have meaningful competition between left-handed baseball players, and right-handed baseball players, despite the advantages . In fact, many would say that the lefty/righty combination is one of the most important factors in baseball. But there's no meaningful competition between big boxers and little boxers; the big No trans women are currently banned from rugby, because as it stands right now in the international game, there are none good enough. We'll see what develops in the future. Are there any potential disadvantages for trans women athletes?

'So many women feel betrayed,' a woman who knew Laurel when she was competing in male divisions said. As the online campaign continued to gain traction, it was quietly removed from the webpage. Saint Kentigerns never publicly acknowledged Hubbard ' s attendance at the school, but a spokeswoman wished her well for the Olympics when contacted by Daily Mail Australia. 'Over the course of 60 years, the Saint Kentigern community has remained deeply respectful of its heritage, staying true to its founding Christian principles and Scottish heritage,' the school' s webpage reads.

However, advantages are allowed in sport. What is not allowed is overwhelming advantage. For instance, left-handed tennis players are allowed to compete against right-handed tennis players despite their advantages. On the other hand, heavyweight boxers are not allowed into the ring against flyweight boxers. The important difference is that meaningful competition exists between left- and right-handed tennis players but not between big boxers and small boxers. I think it is important to examine the question of trans women athletes within this framework.

Secondly, GAHT causes biological changes in trans women that matter for sport. After four months of hormone therapy haemoglobin and haematocrit levels of trans women will shift from typical male to typical female levels. Haemoglobin is the single most important factor influencing performance in endurance sports. However, strength changes with GAHT will be slower and less complete than haemoglobin changes. Published studies on non-athletic trans women suggest modest strength reductions of 5-10 per cent.

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The New Zealand Olympic Committee released a statement attributed to Hubbard on Friday, remarking on the historical event coming on Monday, Fox News reported. “ The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, our ideals, and our values. Hubbard claims to have transitioned eight years ago at the age of 35. The 43-year-old weightlifter who also competed as a male for many years began competing as a female in 2017. The IOC ruled that Hubbard met all the requirements for trans athletes and qualified for this year’ s international games.

Olympic hopeful Hubbard , whose history-making campaign begins on Monday, has received a mixed response to her career path and participation. The athlete has earned high-profile backing from figures including New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, while others – including medical "Science will help, experience will help and time will help," said Budgett, who appeared to back World Rugby' s decision to ban trans athletes at elite level because of concerns over safety. In some ways this might be a good thing as it will raise the issue on a global scale. Lots of people unaware of this madness will

Cisgender men are as much as 50 per cent stronger in the upper body than cisgender women. However, trans women are not cisgender men. Measured hand-grip strength in non-athletic trans women was 10-14 per cent lower than in cisgender men even before GAHT. The conclusions that can be drawn from studies on non-athletes are limited as these studies are poor substitutes for data from athletes.

A study of changes in fitness test results of transgender American service personnel indicated that the trans women in the study were able to do 31 per cent more push-ups per minute than cisgender women prior to GAHT but this difference was entirely resolved with GAHT. There are not yet any published studies examining strength changes in trans athletes, however, unpublished data suggest that the strength decreases in trans women athletes are larger than those experienced by non-athletic trans women.

There is, however, also a significant decrease in body mass in those trans women who lost substantial strength. And here is the next point. Those sports where size and strength are of critical importance, such as weightlifting, divide competitors into weight classes. Although trans women are bigger, on average, than cisgender women, trans women will be the same size as the women in their weight category.

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How does Hubbard stack up against the women she is competing against in Tokyo? Hubbard is the oldest of the lifters at 43 years old. Hubbard will compete at approximately 130 kilograms of body mass and has a best two-lift (snatch and clean and jerk) total of 285 kilograms from 2019.

Olympic favourite Li Wenwen of China will compete at approximately 150 kilograms of body mass and has a two-lift best of 335 kilograms from earlier this year. Hubbard placed sixth in the 2019 world championships but has also "bombed out" of two international competitions. It would not be unreasonable for Hubbard to place anywhere from third on a very good day to 14th if she again bombs out.

Before transition, Hubbard set a NZ national junior record that stood for 15 years but she never would have qualified for the Olympics nor placed sixth in the world championships in the men's category. Clearly, Hubbard has advantages, but equally clearly her advantages are not overwhelming.

The current IOC guidelines stipulate that trans women should be allowed to compete against cisgender women if they reduce their testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per litre. Given that more than 95 per cent of cisgender women have testosterone levels below 2 nmol/L, then the IOC threshold is probably too high. A 2017 committee recommended lowering this threshold to 5 nmol/L based on sound research.

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World Athletics, the UCI, World Rowing, and other organisations have adopted this limit. The trans athlete rules adopted by any given sporting federation determine policy and not the IOC guidelines. Cisgender women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can have testosterone levels up to 5 nmol/L. No one would attempt to prevent women with PCOS from competing and hence it is reasonable to also allow trans women to compete with a testosterone level of 5 nmol/L.

However, it doesn't make much difference to the actual testosterone levels maintained by trans women athletes. Trans women on GAHT achieve the same testosterone levels as cisgender women and this includes the high-level athletes studied at Loughborough University in England.

The IOC has announced that there will be new guidelines released after the Tokyo Olympics. It has been hinted that these guidelines will support sport-by-sport policy on trans athletes. I am in favour of sport-by-sport transgender regulations. I think that in most sports testosterone suppression alone will mitigate (but not eliminate) the physiological advantages held by trans women to the point that trans women and cisgender women can enjoy meaningful competition.

There might be some sports, such as rugby, where safety concerns mandate additional restrictions. I would not be in favour of banning trans women from any sport, including weightlifting. I think that future research can help to inform sport-specific trans policies.

I also believe that one of the most important factors in determining whether transgender policy produces meaningful competition is to examine population studies. Trans people make up approximately 0.5 per cent-1 per cent of the population. Given that more than 5000 women will be competing in Tokyo, we should expect to see approximately 30-50 trans women in the Games if trans people were equally represented.

Rather than be concerned because one trans woman is competing in Tokyo, we should be concerned that the widespread discrimination and repression experienced by trans people worldwide has limited their opportunities in many areas of life, including sports.

Trans women have not taken over women's sport in the 45 years since Renee Richards first competed in the US Open tennis tournament and won't take over women's sport in the next 45 years.

Joanna Harper is a PhD researcher at Loughborough University, England, and the author of the book Sporting Gender.

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