Ministers must uphold equity for women in sport – now | Mara Yamauchi

OWhy does the female category in sport exist? It exists so that born women – women and girls – can participate, compete and excel in fair and safe sport. Without the female category, women and girls would be nowhere in the sport due to the tremendous physical advantages that male born enjoy.

The extent of these benefits is poorly understood, but was well illustrated by the hypothetical example from UK sporting advice that Sir Mo Farah would be doubled over in a 10,000m race if he faced someone 10% more faster than him – 10% being the difference. between men and women in my own sport, running.

The fact that you are reading this article at this time is due to the existing female category. Without it, I would be nobody. When I set my personal record, 2:23:12 in 2009, I was ranked second in the world in women’s road racing. But 2:23:12 is, to be frank, nothing special by male standards. In 2009, at least 1,300 men ran faster. Had I been told to endure unfair competition against born male athletes, I would never have become the UK’s most successful female marathon runner at the Olympics and a Commonwealth Games medalist. I would have been excluded from things of value such as team places, prize money and podium places. That is to say, if I had persevered in the sport – probably, I would have quit the sport altogether. Why would anyone want to participate in an event that is unfair?

The whole point of the female category is that it excludes the advantage of male bodies. Logically, this must be applied, otherwise it ceases to be the female category and instead becomes a mixed category. I therefore welcome the new policy recently announced by Fina aimed at excluding people born male from elite women’s competitions if they have experienced part of male puberty, for two main reasons: it focused, as a laser, on the source of male advantage – androgenization, which is mainly acquired during male puberty (there are obvious small differences in childhood). Second, Fina has made clear its belief, which I share, that trans people should be welcomed and included in sport, committing to developing an inclusive category. Details are yet to be determined, but this solution ensures equity and inclusion for all, including women. I hope other federations will follow Fina’s example.

The debate about trans inclusion in sport has mostly focused on the elite level. But the crisis facing women’s sport is just as serious at the grassroots level. People born male participate in women’s sport throughout the UK. Officials and event organizers, many of whom are volunteers, are powerless to refuse applications from born males compete in the women’s category. I know this, because I often hear examples of what is happening. I am in contact with a group of women in the UK who have deliberately avoided events involving a born male and are considering quitting completely. I can’t say which sport, to protect their anonymity. But why should a woman be placed in this odious position?

Last September, the UK sporting councils made it clear that fairness and safety for women on the one hand, and the inclusion of those born male in the female category on the other, cannot co-exist, even with testosterone suppression. Equity and inclusion cannot be balanced: sport faces a choice. But since then, the National Governing Bodies or NGBs have dithered, and all the while there is evidence that women are excluded from things of value in their own category, or self-exclusive.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said she would ask national governing bodies to protect the female category. It was long overdue, and I hope she did just that when she met with them on Tuesday. It would not have been necessary to come to this if the national governing bodies had protected the female category. But it’s not, and while I’m not a fan of this government, I’m glad to see leadership coming from the top. This problem affects 51% of the population; it’s a matter of public health, and millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on sport every year. I am happy to see what I hope will be the beginning of the end of this ideological assault on fair and safe sport for women and girls.

One feature of this debate that I find very frustrating is the lack of basic understanding of the sport by many who favor the inclusion of born males in the female category. For example, confusing gender differences (which are massive), with body differences – such as large feet or being left-handed – which occur in both males and females (and are, by comparison, lowercase). Otherwise known as the Phelps gambit – named after swimmer Michael Phelps and based on the idea that his physique gave him an unfair competitive advantage over his closest competitors – this argument has been demolished by scientists on several occasions, but it is always rejected.

Another misunderstanding is the asymmetry of what trans inclusion offers to both genders. Men can enjoy competing in the women’s category with retained male advantages, improving their careers, opportunities, and bank balances. On the other hand, women suffer from exclusion in their own category and have no chance of being competitive in the male category, even under testosterone, which is prohibited anyway. The Tokyo 2021 qualifying standard for the men’s marathon was 2:11:30; the women’s world record is 2:14:0.

Proponents of inclusion present this as a matter of social justice and human rights. If only they could include women in their crusade.

  • Mara Yamauchi is a former elite marathon runner and two-time Olympian

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Teresa E. Burton