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Are Transgender Sport Competitors Cheating?

Posted on 20th February 2019

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Martina Navratilova is in trouble for her recent statement about transgender people in sport, as reported by the BBC.

A US LGBT group, Athlete Ally, have severed ties with Ms. Navratilova, an 18-times Grand Slam winner, because of her statement in The Sunday Times, that it was "cheating" to allow transgender women to compete in women's sport as they had unfair physical advantages; "I am happy to address a transgender woman in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair.". Athlete Ally branded this as transphobic and perpetuating myths, and based on a false understanding of science and data.

Athlete Ally seem to be confusing political correctness with science. There are basic differences between the physiology of male and female bodies, which are the reason why, in most sports, men and women do not compete directly: men have a wider natural variation in the ratio of different types of muscle than women, and this ratio is more easily affected by training (and even diet), so that men are better able to optimise their bodies for stamina, speed, or strength. Having sex-change surgery does not affect this variability of muscle-type ratios, and hormone treatment only affects this variability very slowly (over years).

So, Ms. Navratilova has the science right; Athlete Ally does not.

I am not sure that I would accuse male-to-female transgender sports competitors of deliberately cheating (a sex-change seems to be too drastic for people to do it just to win at sport), but it is most certainly not fair. The world of sport should take Martina's comments seriously, and address this unfairness. If they don't, people may stop watching some sports.