Of all the arguments in this controversial area, this is the one I find most difficult to address, because the person has such a different view about what creates value in sport that we may as well be discussing a totally different subject. Worth discussing the concepts briefly:
Let’s discuss one sporting example, from the Osaka vs Williams match yesterday. I watched that, knowing that both those players had opportunities that many others, perhaps with similar potential, did not have. I often watch sports like tennis, cycling, rowing etc, and wonder how
…many others, given the same opportunities, would be capable of better performances than I’m watching? That’s not to say people are given success on a platter, but it’s undeniably true that sporting success = innate ability or potential realised through training PLUS opportunity
So Williams & Osaka are exceptional athletes, the best we have, because they had enough of all three elements. That’s precisely what sport is intended to celebrate. Emergence from a population IS THE POINT, and sport is set up to reward that. Does this create inequity? Of course!
Is it to some degree arbitrary? Yes. In the sense that someone who is not 1.80m tall sees their chances of NBA success drop dramatically. One could create a category for shorter players, the equivalent of weight classes in boxing, *IF* being inclusive of everyone was the purpose
The key is that sport, especially elite sport, is meant to reveal exceptionalism, so its outcome is “exclusive". Between its zero-sum nature (my podium spot or selection means you won’t get one), and competition for those spots, sport is in fact structured to exclude many...
…in favour of a few. Take 128 players at the start of the Aus Open, there are now 2 left. 126 excluded. That’s how it works, and one can play “whataboutery” forever, agonising over the millions who didn’t have the chances to access the sport, but that’s a different debate.
What matters is that those who did have a legitimate chance of success against people who also did. So, like vs like, and then let sport (including the pathways that brought Osaka, Williams, Brady etc to this point) discover who has that combination of three elements i mentioned
Because the trouble with the original piece is that if you just lump social & genetic factors in one big bucket of “it’s unfair”, you’re actually arguing, at least initially, for no sex category at all. After all, if everything is unfair and random, why have a female category?
If your paradigm is that unfairness created by social factors is the same as unfairness created by biology (M vs F), and that because we accept social/economic unfairness, we should also accept biological unfairness, do you realise where we end up? Pull the thread, it unravels
So we could then just have one Aus Open draw, 128 PLAYERS, no male-female separation. Do you think we’d see Osaka vs Williams? Not a chance. They wouldn’t be in the draw at all. But it’s cool, right, because that’s just another part of the unfairness that exists in sport?
So then, even though those two women represent the best in the world (with accepted “inefficiencies” as noted), they disappear from sport, because you’ve basically just added unfairness to unfairness, in the name of inclusion. I’d wonder what you have against women to do this?
In effect, you’d created such a powerful unfairness that it will exclude 50% of the world from that level of sport, irrespective of social, economic etc factors. You could invest billions in youth development to overcome this, but you’d fail. You’ve built an insurmountable wall
The wall currently does NOT exist on the basis of biological sex, because there is a protected category for women. The category eliminates one aspect of unfairness. It’s ironic that a person who seems passionate about fairness is so willing to get rid of something that creates it
All this said, because their value system and understanding of sport, from first exposure & opportunity, through the pathway to its summit, is either misunderstood or maliciously distorted, these arguments enter a void. Sport shouldn’t be about identity validation, but once it...
…is given that purpose (most often by people who have no real stake in it otherwise), there’s little chance of a reasonable discussion. We’re looking at the same thing, but some see it as a tool for X, some for Y. Best not to waste time on futile persuasion. End.

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More from @Scienceofsport

5 Feb
You’ll look long and hard, and still fail, to find a debunking of something as poor and weak as this one. Simply saying the opposite thing preceded by FACT (in caps) doesn’t qualify as a debunking of anything. Except maybe intelligent insight.
Very brief responses to each. The first one is sloganeering and non-scientific. For the sporting argument, it relies on a common but flawed overlap argument because of "a range of physical characteristics” in women, which is obvious, but irrelevant
“They overlap because of a wide range” is irrelevant. Comparison should be typical M vs typical F, or elite vs elite, performance-matched vs performance-matched. Not a manipulated comparison between extremely good F and relatively mediocre M, to conclude “They’re the same”!
Read 12 tweets
24 Jan
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov That’s great, she’s probably on the far right of the athleticism spectrum within the female sex. But the comparison with you is absolutely irrelevant, because, and I say this factually, you’re not an elite athlete. How does she compare to the top 10% of men? Nothing sexist here.
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov So the thing for your sister is that if you got your wish, the only sport she could ever do is play it socially against (and again, I’m being blunt here) mediocre males like you. The moment she stepped on a court or track, or jumped in a pool against top 10% males, she’s nowhere
@oldeisyoung @helenopinion @Rolnikov And if that still seems sexist to you, spend some time on wiki and compare world records in track and field, swimming, weight lifting, cycling. Or even high school records. NCAA winning times. Take your pic. Check how many males are far ahead of the best females in history.
Read 7 tweets
8 Dec 20
New study on transgender & performance. The paper’s title could've been “Significant endurance & strength-endurance advantages are retained for up to 2 years despite T reduction in TW: Implications for the assumptions of fairness in current policies”. Some thoughts to follow
First, remind ourselves of the principle and why the results matter. Sports policies have allowed inclusion of TW who lower T for 12 months on the assumption that this removes the male physiological advantages sufficiently to create fairness when women’s sport is “opened” up (2/)
The obvious (though amazingly unasked) question is “Is there evidence showing that this actually works? In other words, does T suppression remove the biological advantages that necessitate a separate women’s category in sport?" This is the question the study is trying to address:
Read 20 tweets
29 Nov 20
The @dailymaverick asked me to do a piece on the trans woman in sport issue. It’s necessarily short and high level, but here it is. Writing it made me realize there are some key questions everyone who wades into the debate upfront should answer. Wanted to share them here (1/_)
The first question, before any other “shots are fired”, should be:

“If there is ZERO evidence for what happens to performance and/or biology in trans women undergoing treatment, what should happen for sport? Would you allow inclusion, or would you exclude until it exists?” (2/)
This is so important because it reveals a “value system” and understanding of women’s sport. If you believe in inclusion in the absence of evidence, you’re saying that women’s sport should be OPEN to self-ID, and then evidence must be provided to prove unfairness or risk. (3/)
Read 16 tweets
24 Oct 20
This is a sound and accurate logical explanation of why this notion of “matching for performance” to sidestep male and female sports categories is flawed. There are so many problems with it, one being that it fundamentally undermined the meaning of sporting competitions. (1/)
Another way to frame or conceptualise this is to recognize that if a female and male athlete are “matched” by this “unicorn-algorithm matching strategy”, the female athlete will be relatively better in their original category than the male athlete in theirs. Fundamentally unequal
A woman would be in say the 95th percentile for metrics like strength, speed, power etc, vs a men with equal numbers who is at around the 50th to 60th percentile for men. This “competition” enables relatively mediocre males to compete “equally” against excellent, top 5% females
Read 7 tweets
9 Oct 20
The World Rugby Transgender guideline is now out, and fully available here: playerwelfare.worldrugby.org/gender You’ll also find a document called FAQs which tries to answer some common questions. We firmly believe it is the right thing in an emotive issue, for many reasons.
The Guideline is also accompanied by a visualisation that summarises the available physiological evidence that informed the Guideline. Here are those images, but I’d encourage consideration of all the issues - biological, legal, medical, social, ethical. All are in the doc & FAQs
As brief a summary as I can provide:
It is not possible to balance inclusion, safety and fairness. All the quality evidence, even if incomplete, strongly suggests that advantages are retained with welfare & performance implications. Therefore, players must compete in sex category
Read 10 tweets

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