It was awesome to wake up to the news today that another sporting body has made a decision to protect women’s sports at the elite level. FINA – swimming’s world governing body – alongside World Rugby, has now implemented new transgender participation policies to protect women’s participation. Back in October 2020, World Rugby were the first major sporting body to protect women’s sports, which resulted in much outrage. The usual stuff. But World Rugby have stood strong in their faith in the robust and in-depth research they did comparing women with transwomen (men who identify as women), which showed that transwomen retained too much male strength to make it safe for them to play a physical contact sport with women. Now FINA’s new policies also ensure that when women are competing at swimming’s elite level they are not competing against testosterone-lowered males who have gone through the physical prowess-enhancing process of puberty – i.e. transwomen. No matter how much men’s testosterone is lowered, they never completely negate the considerable physical advantage that going through puberty bestows on them.
Although there are still many who dispute the above point, the fact remains that women athletes who artificially raise their testosterone levels never become equal to their male counterparts, when comparing like for like. If all it took was an adjustment of testosterone, either up or down, to become like the opposite sex, then women athletes who raised theirs would be competitive with men athletes at the same levels as they were with women beforehand, but they’re not. It may suck big time, but we can’t escape the fact that puberty builds men physically in a way which women can never equal.
Of course, all the news headlines are calling it a restriction on transwomen, instead of a protection for women*. No surprises there. The mainstream media has been favouring transpeople for quite some time now, and not given the time of day to women who are not coping well with having transwomen in our spaces and sports. For the record, I believe that transgender people are entitled to rights and safeties like anyone, but in the case of transwomen these are parallel to women’s, not the same. Bodies matter, and whether we like it or not, and irrespective of how much they’re surgically altered, women’s and men’s bodies are different. If they weren’t, women wouldn’t need the special rights and safeties we have. Our sexed bodies are the foundation of all we do and experience in life.
FINA’s rules now state that no male who has gone though puberty may compete in women’s sports. Any male who wishes to do so must have begun the transition to female before twelve years old. At first glance, this seems shocking, and indeed many people, including women, have jumped straight to the matter of how this could go wrong. It’s true there’s a possibility that some boys may get pressured into transitioning to female before puberty, and before they’re really emotionally mature enough to make that decision. There are already examples of this, which so far seem to be associated to the kid not fitting the stereotype for their sex, rather than associated with sports. However, the unconscionable things parents can do in pursuit of moulding their kids into the kids they desire is not a foul that women athletes should be forced to own and be punished for. That is a different fight. Yes, it should be addressed, but defaulting to the easy fix of forcing women to move aside for male-bodied transwomen so that some unscrupulous parents don’t pressure their sons into transitioning at a young age is not an acceptable fix.
To their credit, FINA are committed to finding a way that transgender athletes can still participate in sports. It’s a worthy commitment, as sports are a proven way to help both physical and mental wellbeing. But we women fought tooth and nail for our sports (as we have for everything we’ve achieved) and even though there are some women who declare that they’re happy to compete with transwomen athletes, it’s the group of women athletes as a whole which must be considered. We base rules around groups, not around individuals, and men are bigger and stronger than women as a group, even when testosterone levels have been reduced. This is just how it is, like it or not.
So, thank you FINA for doing the right thing for women. Although it may be hard to see right now, it will be the right thing for transwomen swimmers, too, as I’m sure it will give rise to new categories, participation, and interest – and far less controversy.