The Sunday Times letters page today has three letters responding to a column by sports writer Martin Samuel in which he suggested elite sport should be fair but mass participation events like the London Marathon didn’t need to be. Specifically, that an Olympic marathon runner, Mara Yamauchi, was making an unnecessary and unreasonable fuss about Glen/ Glenique Frank who’d run in the women’s event and been interviewed by the BBC on race day. He said that any upset felt by women should be balanced with “what we know of transgender suicide rates, and instances of anxiety and depression, and recognise the importance of not feeling isolated.”
It’s encouraging to see the readers’ comments below the published letters. Under the section headed “support for trans runner is sexism as usual” there are 192 comments (at 8pm on Sunday). Only one commenter, who declares themselves as trans, takes issue with the letters. The other four topics for letters today all have more letters, so more on which to comment, but much less engagement. There are six letters on the leading topic, water pollution, attracting 23 comments. A section on King Charles also has six letters, with 29 comments. Two other sections featuring 13 letters on a range of topics have a total of 42 comments between them.
Another sign that the era of #NoDebate is well and truly over.
Here is the full version of our letter, an edited version of which was in the newspaper today.
If only Martin Samuel had the same compassion for women as he does for a man who claims, sometimes, he is a woman. Fortunately the risk of suicide for trans-identifying people is not exceptional, but even if anxiety, depression and social isolation are, may I suggest that those who enter races do so according to the rules like the rest of us. Women’s sport does not exist to solve the mental health problems of men.
Samuel concedes that women in elite sport should have fairness. Gee thanks. Where does the line lie, between expecting fairness and being forced to accept unfairness? Is fairness just for the most talented women? Why do women’s feelings matter less than Glen’s? Are men expected to compromise on fairness to make someone feel better?
Inclusion in sport means making sure there is an opportunity for everyone to play, fairly and safely. That’s why sport has categories, by age, sex, disability and sometimes weight. No one is excluded from sport, but everyone is excluded from the categories where they don’t belong. The rules are set upfront so that the results have meaning. Win or lose, you know it was fair. That is a universal principle of sport at every level. It’s astonishing to see a sports journalist argue that it doesn’t matter. The London Marathon could dispense with sex categories but as long as they offer a women’s race that’s what it must be.