Should Transgender Athletes be Allowed to Compete in Sports?

With the recent controversial NCAA Swimming National Championships taking place, the national attention exploded with discussion. Now, you may be wondering why people are actually paying attention to college swimming on a national level, but it is because a transgender women name Lia Thomas ended up winning the 500m race. An eruption of public outrage spewed after the race and many people didn’t like that the NCAA allowed a biological man to compete against biological women and saw a massive physical advantage for Thomas. The NCAA later came out and said that it was in support of Lia’s win and for any other transgender athlete’s participation in college athletics in the name of inclusivity and being anti-transpohobic. Even many other womens swimmers were against it with letters from 36 Arizona women’s alumni swimmers; Texas women’s alumni swimmers; and even some of Thomas’s own teammates expressing their concerns to the NCAA about allowing her to compete in races against biological women. So, is there really an advantage for Lia Thomas and transgender women in sports?

To start out, Lia Thomas absolutely had an advantage over the other competitors in terms of physical stature. What I mean by this is that Lia went through puberty as a boy and completed puberty as a man while the other swimmers started puberty as girls and finished as women. The biological differences between the sexes are one of the main reasons that many say she had an advantage over the other swimmers. Men develop broader shoulders during puberty which is extremely important in swimming so you can pull through the water at a faster rate and with less water resistance. Men generally develop larger hands and feet which are important because the larger surface area covered by your feet and hands, the more water you pull and the faster you will go. Also, since men generally tend to be taller than women after puberty, larger lungs are developed which help with increased endurance and buoyancy (the ability to float), which is important for long distance swimmers and also for swimmers to stay above the water during a race. Lastly, men have a much higher amount of natural testosterone than women do even after taking hormone blockers for a full year like Thomas has. The increased amounts of testosterone lead to higher muscle mass, bone density and also the amount of hemoglobin in the body. Hemoglobin is a protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen to different parts of the body. So, if you have more testosterone and hemoglobin, you have a higher rate of endurance. 

Next, it is important to look at the biological advantages that transgender women have compared to cisgender women even while taking hormone blockers. The NCAA restrictions are set to where a transgender female athletes must take hormone blockers for a full year before being able to compete, as well as a testosterone level of 10 nmol/L or lower. The NCAA, however, only allows cisgender women to have a maximum of 5 nmol/L or less of testosterone which is proof that their is a visible advantage for transgender athletes in the NCAA. In a study done by Dr. Timothy Roberts, a pediatrician from Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, shows that transgender women after two years of hormone blockers retain a 12% advantage against their cisgender counterparts in terms of overall speed in a 1.5 mile run; a 10% higher number in terms of pushups done; and a 6% difference in the amount of situps that were done. This study was based on a physical test done every 6-12 months by the U.S. Airforce and tested a pool of 46 transgender women. Another reason testosterone is so important in this issue is because it also shows how the discrepancies between cis men and trans men were closed after two years of taking testosterone. Before taking testosterone, the trans men had significantly lower amounts of pushups and situps, as well as much slower 1.5 mile times. This fact goes a long way to show why transgender women athletes should be held to the same requirements as cisgender women based on testosterone levels. Another study done by Tommy Lundberg, a research scientist at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, found that transgender women getting feminizing hormone therapy after one year still had significant advantages in terms of muscular strength and bone strength “to the point that fairness cannot be ensured in most sports,” according to Lundburg. Now, there still haven’t been many studies on this issue which is why it is still such a heated debate topic, but from what has been studied, it seems like trans women still will have higher testosterone levels even while on hormone blockers compared to cisgender women. 

Finally, if the NCAA really wanted equality for their trans athletes, they would be holding them by the same regulations that the biological women are held to. Female athletes fought tirelessly for Title IX to be instituted by the Supreme Court and this seems like it could possibly lead to the downfall of women’s sports from issues like these. If there is going to be a continual rise of this happening, biological men will start to dominate women’s sports and we could have a whole other set of issues that come along with it. The best way to stop all of the controversy from this is for the NCAA to hold trans athletes to the same levels of hormones as cis athletes and also extend the amount of time that is required to be on hormone blockers to over two years to get rid of any extreme physical discrepancy. 

To end this off, it is not the trans athletes’ faults for the issues at hand. It is purely the people at the top of the NCAA board for causing this to be an issue because they allow for these advantages to occur while other boards like the IOC have done their research and have been able to have more equitable athletic events. A few, simple regulation changes could possibly put this issue to a close. It is not a matter of anti-inclusivity of trans athletes, it is a matter of equality between transgender and cis gender women in sports. 


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