Be it resolved: Safety and fairness preclude participation of trans athletes in high level women's sport


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For almost a century now the international sporting community has grappled with the question of how to determine who gets to compete in the female sports category. Fifty years ago the question was answered with humiliating physical exams, but in more recent decades most international sporting federations have embraced a science focused approach. The International Olympic Committee, for example, uses testosterone levels considerably above the female range, not gender, as the main determinant of who gets to compete in the women’s elite sport. But last October, World Rugby made international headlines when it announced a very different approach. The governing body’s new guidelines prohibit transgender athletes from playing elite women’s rugby because of concerns about the safety of players. Advocates for trans athletes say that these guidelines are discriminatory not least because they underestimate the extent to which hormone therapy and surgery diminish the biological advantages of being born male. They also argue that it’s dangerous for international sporting bodies to try and regulate the factors that go into superior performance - a complex matter that cannot be reduced to a gender binary. Advocates for women’s sport say that for reasons of basic fairness and safety more governing bodies should develop guidelines that bar biological males from participating in female sport. They argue that trans women who are born male enjoy immense physical advantages that are not eliminated through testosterone therapy or surgery. Female athletes argue that the increasing participation of trans women in their division is pushing them off of the podium and undermining the whole reason behind creating a women’s sports category in the first place.

Arguing for the motion is Linda Blade, former track and field champion, professional track and field coach, and President of Alberta Athletics.

Arguing against the motion is Joanna Harper, a trans athlete, adviser to the International Olympic Committee on gender and sport, and author of Sporting Gender: The History, Science, and Stories of Transgender and Intersex Athletes.

Sources: 60 Minutes Australia, CBC, The Economist, World Rugby, Sky News, WTNH News 8, Fox News, CTV News, KTMF/SWX, Daily Blast Live

The host of the Munk Debates is Rudyard Griffiths - @rudyardg.

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110 episodes