New study supports ideas about differences in athletic performance between men and trans women

A new study funded by the International Olympic Committee shows that transgender female athletes have better grip strength, a measure of overall strength, compared to women assigned female gender at birth, but they are better at jumping They were found to have lower capacity, lung function, and relative cardiovascular fitness.

The data also compares trans women to men, contradicting broader claims often made by proponents of rules barring transgender women from participating in women’s sports. The study’s authors also cautioned against hastening the expansion of such policies, which already ban transgender athletes from some Olympic sports.

One of the authors and a member of the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Committee, Yanis Pitsuladis, said the study’s most important finding was that, given physiological differences, “trans women are not biologically men.” It is said to be a thing.

The study, which has been alternately praised and criticized, has added an interesting data set to a volatile and often politicized debate that is likely to become increasingly noisy as the Paris Olympics and U.S. presidential election approach.

The authors caution against presuming a permanent and disproportionate advantage for transgender female athletes competing in women’s sports, and against “preventive bans or exclusions from sports eligibility” that are not based on sport-specific research. He recommended that.

However, outright bans continue to increase. According to reports, 25 states in the United States currently have laws or regulations in place that prohibit transgender athletes from participating in girls’ and women’s sports. Exercise advancement project, a nonprofit organization focused on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality.and National Intercollegiate Athletics AssociationThis month, an umbrella organization for small colleges banned transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports unless they were assigned female birth gender and are undergoing hormone therapy.

The two sports that attracted the most attention at this summer’s Paris Games were swimming and athletics stadium – with cycling It has effectively banned transgender female athletes who spent their adolescence as men. Rugby has imposed an outright ban on trans female athletes, citing safety concerns, and athletes allowed to participate in other sports may face stricter requirements to suppress their testosterone levels. many.

The International Olympic Committee has left eligibility rules for transgender female athletes up to the world federations governing each sport. And the Olympic Committee has funded this research, which is being done on a variety of topics. research funding — Olympic officials had no input or influence on the results, Dr. Pitsladis said.

In general, the argument against the ban is that the huge benefits that come from male puberty fueled by testosterone – broad shoulders, big hands, long torso, greater muscle mass, muscle strength, bone density, heart and lung capacity – are linked to trans It was given to female athletes of different genders. Unfair and almost irreversible competitiveness.

New laboratory-based, peer-reviewed, IOC-funded research carried out at the University of Brighton was published this month. British Journal of Sports MedicineThe researchers tested 19 cisgender men (those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth) and 12 trans men, as well as 23 trans women and 21 cisgender women.

All participants played competitive sports or underwent physical training at least three times a week. And all of the trans women athletes underwent treatment to suppress testosterone levels and replace estrogen for at least a year, the researchers said. None of the participants were athletes competing at national or international level.

The study found that transgender female participants had stronger grip strength than cisgender female participants, but lower lung function and relative VO2 max (the amount of oxygen used during exercise). Transgender female athletes also scored lower than cisgender women and men on jump tests that measure lower body strength.

The study acknowledged several limitations, including the small sample size and the fact that athletes were not followed over time as they transitioned. And, as previous research has shown, transgender female athletes retain at least one advantage over cisgender female athletes. grip strength.

However, Dr. Pitsuladis, a professor of sport and exercise science, said it is not a single parameter that determines athletic performance, but a combination of multiple factors.

Athletes who gain height and weight through puberty as men have to “carry this larger frame with a smaller engine” after the transition, he said. Citing volleyball as an example, he said that for transgender female athletes, “the jumps and blocks are not going to be the same height as before.” And you may feel that your overall performance is not very good. ”

However, Michael J. Joyner, a physician at the Mayo Clinic who studies the physiology of male and female athletes, says based on his own research and that of other researchers, the ban on elite sports, where competitive events are determined by the state, is not scientific. said that it is supported. Minimum margin.

“We know that testosterone improves performance,” says Dr. Joyner. “And we also know that testosterone has residual effects.” Additionally, the decrease in performance in trans women after taking drugs that suppress testosterone levels is typical of athletic performance between men and women. It added that it would not completely reduce the difference.

Advocates for transgender athletes and some scientists who oppose the ban have accused governing bodies and lawmakers of enacting a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They point out that there are very few elite trans women athletes. And there is limited scientific research into the lasting benefits in strength, power, and aerobic capacity that come from experiencing puberty as a man.

Athletes who have competed in the Olympics have had mixed results. At the 2021 Tokyo Games, quinnThe soccer player, who is trans non-binary and assigned female at birth, helped Team Canada win a gold medal. However, New Zealand transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was unable to complete the lift in her event.

“The idea that trans women are going to take over women’s sports is ridiculous,” says Joanna Harper, a leading trans athlete researcher and postdoctoral fellow at Oregon Health and Science University.

Dr. Harper, who is transgender, said it was important for the sport. Consider the physiological differences between transgender and cisgender women And he said he supports certain restrictions, such as requiring suppression of testosterone levels. But she called a blanket ban “unnecessary and unjustified” and said she welcomed the IOC-funded research.

“There are concerns that trans women aren’t really women, that men are invading women’s sports, and that trans women are bringing all of the athleticism and athleticism of men to women’s sports. “But neither is true,” Dr. Harper said.

Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, the world’s governing body for athletics, acknowledged that the science remains open. However, the organization decided to bar transgender female athletes from international track and field venues because “I’m not going to take any risks with this,” he said.

“We believe this is in the best interest of preserving the women’s category,” Coe said.

In at least two high-profile cases, fights over transgender bans have moved to court. Former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas challenges the suspension imposed by swimming’s world governing body, World Aquatics, after winning the 500-yard freestyle race at the 2022 NCAA Championships. ing. With her win, Thomas, who was one of the best male swimmers in the Ivy League, became the first trans athlete to win a women’s championship event in college sports’ top division.

However, Thomas did not dominate every race, finishing tied for fifth in the second race and tied for eighth in the third. His winning time in the 500m dash was more than nine seconds slower than the NCAA record. Her case, filed with the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, is not expected to be resolved before the Paris Olympics start in July.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen current and former U.S. college athletes, including at least one who played against Thomas, sued the NCAA last month. They argued that by allowing Thomas to participate in the national championships, they violated their rights under Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in facilities receiving federal funding. (Title IX has also been used in arguments in support of transgender female athletes.)

out sportsA website reporting on LGBTQ issues hailed the IOC-funded study as a “groundbreaking achievement” that concluded “a complete ban on sports is a mistake.” But some scientists and athletes said in a magazine article that the study had major flaws. telegraph paperthe IOC has deemed a “new low” over claims that transgender women are at a disadvantage in sports.

The debate has become so heated that Dr Pitsladis said he and his research team have been receiving threats. He warned that this could deter other scientists from further research on the topic.

“Why would a scientist do something like this if he was going to be roundly criticized and character assassinated?” he said. “This is no longer a scientific issue. Unfortunately, it has become a political issue.”

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