On Friday, retired long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe voiced her concern regarding male-to-female (MTF) transgender athletes in elite sports.
Appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live, Radcliffe stated:
[There] are absolutely probably hundreds of transgenders who want to take part in sport, for all the other benefits that it brings, and all we’re saying is, “That’s fine, but not elite sport,” because elite sport, that female section of elite sport, has to be protected so that females can genuinely reach the top of it.
Radcliffe then compared “intersex” athletes, who were born with anatomical or chromosomal irregularities, to transgender athletes, saying that “they haven’t chosen to make that change, which is what is happening in transgender because they should be [in] a male sport, and if they have chosen to transition, then they’re asking to compete in female sport, and I think that is much more clear cut and easier rule to rule on.”
Earlier in March, Radcliffe, who holds the record for fastest female marathon runner, made a similar remark: “You have to start looking at the advantages that athletes who transition, after they’ve gone through male puberty, have over other female athletes and what can be done to level that playing field…”
Radcliffe’s outspokenness has led to fierce criticism on social media.
Trans activist and self-proclaimed “intersectional feminist” Tess Stenson tweeted:
Yay, waking up to Paula Radcliffe on tele talking about trans women in sport and oh my god how many times. It never ends. Always some soft spoken reasonable seeming middle aged woman waiting to very reasonably call for exclusion of trans people from some aspect of society. How on earth we’ve got to the point where the media is so god damn obsessed with trans people I don’t know. Trans people are a threat to know one. We’re not out to usurp anyone’s space. We just want to be allowed a little respect and be to f****** well participate in society.
Transgender cyclist Rachel McKinnon also weighed in, telling Pink News: “Paula continues to ignore facts: trans women are legally female [and] trans women have been permitted to compete in Olympic-eligible sports since October 2003.”
After noting that no trans athlete has ever qualified for the Olympics, “let alone won a medal,” McKinnon added:
The very idea that we must “protect” cis women’s – or “female” – sport from trans women, who are legally female, too, is an irrational fear of trans women, which is the dictionary definition of transphobia.
Radcliffe is just the latest woman coming to the defense of elite female athletes. In December, Ana Paula Henkel, a volleyball player who won the bronze medal in the 1996 Summer Olympics, penned an open letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), writing in part:
It is with respect but much concern that I write, to all entities responsible for sport, about the threat to the virtue of women’s competitions that now occurs with the acceptance of athletes that were born men, developed muscle mass, bone mass, lung and air capacity as men, in forms of sport created and formatted specifically for women. If someone has to go public and pay a price in the name of truth, common sense and fact, I’m willing to bear the consequences. The space, won with integrity by women in sport is at play.
…Is it fair, to simply pretend away these undeniable biological differences in the name of a political ideology which will serve to restrict a space so hard won by women who struggled for it for so many centuries? How to accept “biological” men in fighting competitions, pitilessly hitting women, and then gaining acclaim, medals and money for it? Have we all gone so crazy as to permit such degradation?
…Several physiologists have already attested that this IOC parameter does not revert the effects of the male hormone in the, decades long, already finalized development of bone, tissue, organs and muscle.
…Transexuals’ inclusion in society needs to be accepted, but this rushed and heedless decision to include biological men, born and built with testosterone, with their height, their strength and aerobic capacity of men, is beyond the sphere of tolerance. It represses, embarrasses, humiliates and excludes women.
In February, tennis legend Martina Navratilova wrote in an op-ed for the Sunday Times of London that “letting men compete as women simply if they change their name and take hormones is unfair — no matter how those athletes may throw their weight around.”
In 2018, two male-to-female transgender teenagers won first and second place in a Connecticut state track event.
In 2017, male-to-female transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard won first place at the Australian International, lifting “a combined 268kg to defeat Iuniarra Sipaia of Samoa by total of 19kg,” reports the Herald Sun.
In 2014, male-to-female transgender MMA fighter Fallon Fox beat opponent Tamikka Brents in the first round, allegedly breaking her orbital bone. In a later interview, Brents said: “I’ve fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can’t answer whether it’s because she was born a man or not because I’m not a doctor. I can only say, I’ve never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right.”
The growing prevalence of transgender athletes may soon reach the upper echelons of sport, as male-to-female transgender volleyball players Tiffany Abreu and Tia Thompson are looking to compete in the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.