The Tokyo Olympics can be considered a miracle. It has not only succeeded in conducting the games in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and also have the most gender balanced group of participants in history, but can also boast about having a whopping 160+ openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer athletes than ever seen before. It has become one of the most inclusive games till date.
There are however two sides to a coin, or as some may argue, three. Along with the waves of support and love, a barrage of criticism and skepticism grace the shores of this event. There has been outrage from the public and other athletes about the participation of trans people in sports.
One athlete who received an exponential amount of hate and criticism even up until this day is Laurel Hubbard. A trans athlete who competed in the 2020 Summer Olympics as a weightlifter in the +87 women’s category. Many of her fellow athletes deemed it unfair, she was even branded as ‘scum’ in a news channel, despite being unable to compete in the medal contention.
The concerns vary, many simply dislike the LGBTQ+ community while others like Sharon Davis, a former Olympic swimmer and athlete argue that despite identifying as female/male/gender neutral, biology plays a big role in competitive sports.
During male puberty, testosterone drives a large part of development. It affects the bones and muscles making them bigger, stronger and sturdier, it also increases the blood count, enlarges the heart and lungs, providing clear lifelong advantages in endurance, speed and strength. World athletes 2019 rankings show that around 2000 men finish the 100 meters more quickly than the fastest woman.
International Olympic committee rules currently allow trans women to compete in events, provided that their testosterone levels have been suppressed for at least 12 months and are below levels of 5 nanomoles per liter. In a recent study conducted by the European society of endocrinology, 94% of the 250 participants showed testosterone levels below 2 nanomoles per liter after 1 year of suppressants. The lowered testosterone levels cause the participants to lose strength. This was however decided purely based on calculating grip strength before and after the treatment. It is to be noted that the average female has about 0.5-2.4 nanomoles per liter of testosterone present.
An interview done by WebMD of sports physicist Joanna Harper sheds a little more light on the subject. She said that although strength wanes over the course of the medical transition, height won’t. In sports like basketball and volleyball the advantage is not mitigated. She also says however, that there is no indication that trans women are anywhere close to taking over women’s sports.
The discussion doesn’t end there, because this is not only an issue in women’s sports. Although concern in men’s sports is not as high, there are some points raised that could be open for debate. Trans men are the only athletes allowed to inject testosterone. The advantage it provides is largely unclear so far as there is no sufficient data available to make a conclusion.
The notion of advantage is also influenced heavily based on the mental health of athletes. Children part of the LGBTQ+ community suffer from higher rates of bullying, depression and social anxiety, this makes it more difficult for them to train and compete on a national or even an international level. They also have a higher rate of homelessness and poverty because of family and societal rejection, an important factor as to why there are few professional athletes in the competitive sphere.
Veronica Ivy a high-profile LGBTQ+ activist who also won the UCI masters track world championship title in October becoming the first transgender woman to do so, says that sports by nature have always been a competition between people from all over the world with different genetic advantages.
The debate will go on and on because it is an issue that currently sees no resolution . There is one thing that is certain, the participation of the LGBTQ+ athletes in the Tokyo Olympics have revolutionized the future of sports drastically, and that is a step forward to inclusivity and equality.
Laurel Hubbard – participated in the women’s weightlifting in the +87 category
Quinn – A professional Canadian soccer player and an Olympic gold medalist. An athlete who came out as non-binary (they/them) and transgender.