There is uncertainty about whether a new policy for transgender athletes, which increases the burden of proof for transgender women to demonstrate that they do not have a competitive advantage over cisgender women, will be adopted ahead of next month’s National Collegiate Athletic Association swimming championships, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Recently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association revised its policies on transgender athletes, requiring transgender women to submit to testosterone testing and, pending further review, deferring to the policy of each sport’s governing body, or, if no such guidance exists, the International Olympic Committee, in the case of male athletes.
Transgender women’s testosterone levels are being reduced by half and an extensive review of their physical characteristics is being conducted before they can compete at the elite level, according to the United States Swimming Association’s more stringent policies, which call for an extensive review of their physical characteristics before they can compete.
Recent events, like the appearance of Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania, have raised questions about how to strike a balance between fair play and inclusivity while providing chances for transgender athletes to participate in sports.
When Thomas was a sophomore in 2019, he was a standout Ivy League swimmer for the men’s team. He started transitioning soon after that season and has raced against women for the first time this winter. Despite the fact that her speeds are much slower than they were when she competed in the men’s category, she has consistently posted some of the best times in the nation in the 200 and 500 metre freestyle events.
Those performances have propelled Thomas into the probable favourite position for the Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in March, as well as for the Ivy League finals later in the month.
In spite of this, the new United States of America Swimming standards are certain to spark discussion – and raise doubts among college administrators about whether she will be permitted to participate.
An N.C.A.A. spokesperson, Gail Dent, said the committee on competitive safeguards and medical aspects of sports, which would meet at the end of February to discuss the new United States Swimming policy. Dent did not indicate when the meeting would take place or how many people would be in attendance. Any suggestions made by the committee will be sent to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Board of Governors for consideration.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association is notoriously slow to act on legislative matters and is not scheduled to meet until April. However, Dent said the board could meet earlier in a remote format, possibly in advance of the N.C.A.A. swimming championships, which begin in Atlanta on March 16 and will continue through April.
The Ivy League’s executive director, Robin Harris, said that the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s readiness to modify qualifying requirements in the midst of a season was unprecedented and ill-considered.
It is the need that a transgender woman maintain a testosterone level less than 5 nanomoles per litre for 36 months before being allowed to participate in women’s events that has drawn the attention of specialists. The previous standard was 10 nanomoles per litre. It is necessary to meet the requirements of most sports over a period of 12 months, however others demand as long as 24 months for some.
It is shown that suppressing testosterone in transgender women lowers haemoglobin levels during the first few months after starting hormone treatment, reducing the amount of oxygen that can be delivered by red blood cells. It also has the additional effect of reducing muscular mass. Despite the fact that such changes normally occur more slowly, the biggest improvements in strength occur during the course of the first year, according to Harper. Harper’s personal experience as a transgender woman and as a long-distance runner led her to believe that after nine months of hormone treatment, her competitive edge had diminished.
Given the opaque nature of the research behind testosterone testing, Katrina Karkazis, author of “Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography,” believes that the emphasis on testosterone testing for transgender athletes is misguided at this time. In her opinion, “it is impossible to isolate the influence of any one biovariable on a complicated athletic performance.”
Despite the fact that the new policy contains encouraging language about inclusivity, numerous experts expressed concern about how poorly defined the rules for judging physical development are, leaving them vulnerable to a concerning degree of subjectivity.
Others expressed concern about the possibility that nominations for the three-member panel of medical specialists that would assess transgender swimmer applications may be rejected by an athletes’ advisory committee, which several experts deemed concerning.
According to Carol Ewing Garber, a professor of movement sciences at Teachers College, Columbia University, who specialises in transgender athletes, “the concern I have about many of these policies is that they’re very onerous to the athletes in order to prove their gender, which has involved some pretty invasive questions and physical exams.” Athletes must jump through a slew of hoops, but they haven’t taken into consideration the underlying prejudice that exists in our society against them.