Let me share a few thoughts on the latest #Semenya development - her appeal rejected by the Swiss Supreme court, World Athletics policy supported (pretty strongly too). We are planning a short pod on this tomorrow too, but here are a few thoughts… (1/…)
First, we’ve spoken a lot about transgender athletes recently. That has many elements to it. This has even more, and it’s really an unsolvable situation. It’s been present for nearly 100 years in sport, some horrendous attempts to manage it, and no clean solution in sight (2/…)
This decision establishes, for now, the policy that requires athletes with hyperandrogenism to lower T in order to compete. But not any hyperandrogenism, and not just any events. It covers only that caused by a selection of DSDs, where a person is 46XY, with testes, and thus (3/
…having high T levels. And it covers only events from 400m to the mile. Both are quite important to emphasise - the former makes clear that for World Athletics, this is about “biological male advantage” in women’s sport (they used this phrasing at CAS, it’s in their documents)
The latter is what makes it weird, because biological advantages conferred by T are hugely impactful on performance - it’s the reason that all being equal, one human runs 10% faster than another, because they have “androgenisation” and the other does not. Men vs women, that is (5
I can’t understand how a policy whose principle is that T is the basis of advantage can then isolate four events where it apparently works. It’s not like T chooses which events it wants to give males a boost in! This paradox is a symptom of the dreadful process and research (6/)
…that World Athletics did in this process. That’s a big objection for me. It’s a ridiculous position to arrive at, so arbitrary and internally inconsistent. That said, let me now offer some support to World Athletics on the PRINCIPLE of biological advantage, which is real (7…)
The dividing line between males (for the purpose of sport, those who get this T benefit) and females (those who do not) is essential. Without it, women’s sport loses integrity and sport begins to reward things that do not matter (like would happen if weight classes in boxing were
…ignored for some people who argued “I’m naturally heavier, I should be allowed to fight down in weight”. So WA have a sound principle - at CAS, they argued this really well, actually. It was a strong physiological position. Their research & policy didn’t match its strength (9/)
The other objectionable thing about it is that it creates a situation where a healthy young athlete, with no desire for change and no medical need, is compelled to seek a doctor who’ll prescribe drugs with risk of harm in order to sport. The doctors were rightly concerned about
…medical ethics for this reason. It even became a point raised by medical organisations, advising doctors not to implement. So again, the issue (for me anyway) is not with the principle of it, but rather its implementation. There’s almost a sense in which the “fix” through drugs
…makes the policy ‘untenable’, but it’s ironic that this “fix” is offered as a way to be more inclusive (right or wrong, of course). In any event, WA have made a strong physiological case, and the courts have now agreed twice, on the basis of fairness, and now it remains (12/…)
…to be seen what Semenya does. I see 3 options. First is another appeal, presumably to European Human Rights court. In that context, the language in the decision is interesting - they are very explicit in saying that fair competition is valued by the ECHR. Interesting (13/)
This whole argument seems like a pre-emptive “closing of the door” on another appeal. Or at least, a ‘prediction’ of its likely failure? Or maybe not (ask a lawyer!). In any event, the time for an appeal is probably long enough that it’s not viable for her to ACT now based on it
Second, she can take the medication. All signs are that she won’t (and I can’t blame her). That means no more 400 to 1500m running. Which leaves option 3 - run a different event. She ran a 23.4s 200m earlier this year, an indication of where her focus may be? (15/)
That’s still too slow for Olympic 200m contention - in Rio 2016, the slowest qualifier into the final was 22.49s, so Semenya needs to improve by a full second to make the final. Medals start at 22.1s. A big leap, time will tell. Incidentally, if she does that, her range (16)
…of performances would span a world class 200m all the way up to a sub-4 min 1500m, would be unprecedented (which is a physiologically interesting, too). What would be really interesting if she does do well in the 200m, is what World Athletics does then? (17/)
World Athletics has indicated that the hyperandrogenism policy is a “living document” and that events can be added to it at any time should evidence emerge for it. Semenya doing well in the 200? Do they act on that “as evidence”? It would look like the policy is chasing Semenya
All in all, a situation without solution, but for a principle of biological sex’s impact on performance, and the defence of women’s sport integrity, it’s right. For policy creation and integrity of science in governance, it’s a disaster. And Semenya is a significant loser (18/)
Sorry, one or two more to add. First, many are using analogies of Michael Phelps’ long arms or big feet, or Usain Bolt’s fast-twitch muscles, to argue that “natural advantages” such as these, and thus Semenya having high T, should be left alone & even celebrated. Let’s assess….
First, sport exists to find exceptional individuals WITHIN categories. We actually want to celebrate things like muscle fibres & neurological advantages in sprinters. We accept that tall people make it in the NBA, that lungs & hearts matter. Sport rewards these attributes (20/)
And that’s precisely why a separate female category is necessary - 2 humans who possess all “the right stuff” to be sprinters or endurance cyclists or tennis players (or pick your sport) will differ by enormous margins if one is male (thus getting T benefits) and the other female
We can see this in every event, where boys outperform the best adult females, even when they’re not as dedicated, well-resourced or talented. Inferior (relative to champions) males outperform historically successful females. They are identical in all respects that matter, and ...
…different in one that should not matter. Hence, a category. It “protects” (sometimes literally) females and allows them to be celebrated deservedly. We do not offer the same “protection” to people with small feet, short arms, slow-twitch muscles, or to short people. (23/)
So these analogies using Phelps’ arms and feet, or Bolt’s muscles are a) tenuous at best, and b) absolutely irrelevant, because until we have a category for short-armed, small-footed swimmers, there is no category crossing to be concerned about. One can, I suppose, lobby for a
…”short person’s NBA" (Under 6-foot etc), but even in scale, these protections are not afforded because they’re small compared to what males have over females. The best small-footed swimmer (size 9 or lower?), for instance, is not beaten by thousands and thousands of “big foots"
So they are unnecessary & unnecessarily complex. So please, lay off spurious analogies. Rather use weight classes in boxing and see if it works if “natural advantage” of weighing 109kg can be allowed into a category for under 70kg. Classes create meaning, so don’t wipe out lines
And that’s about it. As mentioned, we’ll do a podcast, short episode, as soon as possible, and maybe more gets thrown up. But that’s about the extent of my thoughts on an impossible situation, no solution, only ‘victims’. (26/26, the end)

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More from @Scienceofsport

31 Aug
Last week, I posted a thread addressing a common criticism of transgender athlete policies, namely that they’re based on evidence in non-athletes. Here’s that thread, for a reminder. Today, I want to mull on another common issue raised in objection: (1/)
The objection is this: People argue that because trans women are often smaller, lighter, slower, weaker etc than biological females, it should be fine for them to compete as women. It’s an “overlap argument". Here’s one example of that thinking (this particular poll backfired): Image
The premise of the argument is this:
- Testosterone confers upon males advantages including size, strength, speed, power. This is why women have a separate category;
- If someone identifies as female (trans women), provided they’re not too big, strong, fast, they can compete as W
Read 15 tweets
24 Aug
This has been a common argument in the trans women in rugby debate. People have the idea that unless you *directly* study rugby AND show that TW cause injuries, it can’t be evidence based. Of course it can - there are peer reviewed studies that show two related things (thread)
2/ First, you have so many studies that identify both performance determinants and risk factors for injury in rugby. Dozens of studies identify when injury occurs, and thus what the significant risks for injury are. Similarly, performance is multifactorial but is KNOWN to be...
3/ …significantly influenced by a handful of testable/measurable factors. In fact, these measurable factors are so crucial and “robust" that teams actually have minimum standards for them, and select or drop players based on achieving these targets. They’re not “guesses”.
Read 22 tweets
24 Aug
@AntiAnja @Lukeyswords @cuthbert_shaw @JohnJMcGivern @WorldRugby We are hearing this argument a lot. People have the idea that unless you directly study rugby AND show that TW are causing more injuries, it can’t be evidence based. But of course, it can. Because there are peer reviewed studies that show two related things. First, you have...
@AntiAnja @Lukeyswords @cuthbert_shaw @JohnJMcGivern @WorldRugby …a ton of studies that identify what causes injury and performance in the sport. You know, based on hundreds of studies, when injuries happen, and how, and so you can identify the significant risks for injury and the determinants of performance. The performance variables are...
@AntiAnja @Lukeyswords @cuthbert_shaw @JohnJMcGivern @WorldRugby …so robust that teams actually have minimum standards for them, and select or drop players based on achieving these targets. Then second, you have a host of peer reviewed studies that have examined what the biological differences are between M and F, and what this means for
Read 12 tweets
29 Jul
@bloodandmud @smash_rugby @CarolineLayt @SquidgeRugby @KirstiMiller30 @VeritySmith19 @CardiffLions Hi Lee. Heard your discussion on the latest pod, and appreciate the views raised (though I don’t agree with some of the criticisms of the process). regarding the science, the principle or conceptual approach to the issue is very much the same as it was for head injuries. (1/)
@bloodandmud @smash_rugby @CarolineLayt @SquidgeRugby @KirstiMiller30 @VeritySmith19 @CardiffLions That approach is a classic “public health model” where the risk is first identified, then risk factors are assessed, and then attempts are made to mitigate, reduce or avoid those risk factors altogether. I’m know you’re familiar with how this played out in the concussion space
@bloodandmud @smash_rugby @CarolineLayt @SquidgeRugby @KirstiMiller30 @VeritySmith19 @CardiffLions In this area, the same recognition of risk was raised. What you guys discussed on the pod, which wasn’t entirely true, is that there is ONE anecdote (the deckchairs) that raised this concern. There were actually multiple concerns raised. So that was part of it - the sport was
Read 38 tweets
29 Jun
Something keeps coming up in the discussions about women’s sport, fairness and advantages for transwomen. It’s that there is an overlap in the physiology affecting performance between males & females, which some say makes arguments about unfairness irrelevant. Here’s a thread (1/
First, the start point is saying that physiological attributes that drive performance overlap between M & F. This is definitely true - many women are stronger, faster, more powerful, muscular, leaner etc, than many men. Nobody would dispute this - just join a race to find out (2/
Next, this observation - a spectrum for the secondary sex characteristics - is used to argue against a sex binary, which is disingenuous. They’re different things. But it evolves into saying that because there is overlap and because sport is all about “natural advantages”, the...
Read 17 tweets
13 May
Here's an important paper in the transathlete debate, by @TLexercise & @FondOfBeetles. They ask whether male performance advantages are removed after testosterone suppression? (as required by many sports policies for transwomen to compete) My thoughts (1/
To give the answer upfront, they answer the question with a very strong “no”, as per this section in the conclusion (the yellow bit), with the implication highlighted green. To reach this point, they follow a pretty simple path, which i want to summarise briefly if I can:
The argument is set up and developed in 3 steps:
1. What are the biological differences between males & females?
2. What do these biological differences do for performance differences between males and females?
3. What does testosterone reduction to do to 1, and thus 2?
Read 23 tweets

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