In July British Triathlon announced a policy restoring fairness to female triathletes. Yesterday World Triathlon failed to do so, announcing a revised transgender policy based on the discredited notion that suppressing testosterone in adulthood can remove the male performance advantage conferred by male puberty. This they call “inclusive”, though why it should be important to find a way to impair male performance so that they can compete in female events is unclear.
British Triathlon conducted a comprehensive process, inviting expert input and representations from a range of campaign groups including Fair Play For Women. They consulted their female athletes, whose category and competitive opportunities are most affected by transgender inclusion policies. World Triathlon appears to have consulted transgender athletes but not female triathletes.
The British Triathlon consultation went out to members with a report by an outfit called Inclusive Employers purporting to be a review of the scientific literature on the issue. The Inclusive Employers report is clearly driven by ideology not science. It contains significant errors, misinformation and bias. It uses a derogatory term to refer to women who oppose the inclusion of trans-identifying males in the female category. It shows clear bias, for example considering the impact on transgender people but saying nothing about the impact on females. It flatly contradicts the review of the scientific literature published by the Sports Council Equality Group. Ultimately, British Triathlon transgender policy came down in favour of fairness for females, discarding the Inclusive Employers report. But this organisation is being consulted by other sports bodies, who may believe it is providing impartial, reliable evidence. It is not.
Inclusive Employers does not list sex as a protected characteristic on its website. The only reference is sex is in a blog post about the high court ruling obtained by Fair Play For Women on the 2021 Census, which it says was “a devastating blow to trans inclusion and is heightening levels of fear, anger and exclusion“. Instead it has a “gender” section which covers trans, non-binary and pronouns, but says little about women. This matters because Inclusive Employers is being recommended to sports bodies by UK Sport. Here is why they should not rely on Inclusive Employers’ opinions about sport.
The definitions used are scientifically incorrect.
Sex is not “assigned at birth”, it is observed, and increasingly this is done in utero, long before birth. Nor is it “most often either male or female” – it is always either male or female. There is no third sex, and everyone is one sex or the other. Introducing some doubt into this is groundless and unhelpful.
It is not correct to say that “Intersex” is “a term that refers to people whose biological sex does not fit comfortably in the category of ‘male’ and female’.” Intersex is a collective term for around forty different Differences of Sex Development (DSDs) in which the reproductive organs of male or female embryos do not develop correctly in utero, as explained here. All such people are either male or female, though a few have external genitals of ambiguous appearance at birth. Describing them as not fitting into the sex binary “comfortably”, and then including them in a policy for transgender people, is inappropriate and considered offensive by some DSD campaign groups. Again this is indicative of an ideological position suggesting that male and female as categories are no longer reliable. Since they are the basis for sport categories, this is a very misleading position to include in a document claiming to be a scientific literature review.
Sex and gender are constantly conflated.
For example, the statement below refers to “gender” verification when it means sex verification, which was a once-in-a-career test using a check swab. The reference to ‘nude parades’ is needlessly sensationalist since no one is suggesting anything of the kind. Anti-doping testing, which involves urinating in front of an official, is considerably more intrusive than one simple cheek swab.
“Through the history of women’s sport, female athletes have also been exposed to stringent, intrusive and often unnecessary gender verification processes. From mandatory ‘nude parades’ where doctors would inspect athletes’ external genitalia, to chromosome testing that produced many false positives having catastrophic impacts on athletes’ careers. The current policy has moved away from mandatory testing of all athletes and focuses on the measurement of testosterone levels to measure eligibility of athletes whose gender is deemed to be ‘suspicious’.”
The paper dismisses the relevant scientific evidence of persistent male performance advantage.
The issue here is the difference between male and female sexed bodies, specifically the effect of male puberty. There are multiple studies on this, and the extent to which it is reduced by subsequent testosterone suppression. These are all dismissed, in a sentence that also refers to “intersex or non-binary individuals.” Both terms are irrelevant here: intersex includes males and females. Non-binary is a term used in gender identity ideology. It has no scientific basis.
The report says “it is clear there is a dearth of research specifically exploring the so-called transgender advantage”, but this is misdirection. The issue is male advantage, and there is ample evidence that this is not reversible through testosterone suppression. This review gives a completely false impression.
The paper says “Due to the changing nature of the understanding of sex and gender many of the terms used in the research considered as part of the review were outdated.” This is nonsense. Sex has not changed; it remains male or female. This casual dismissal of the research is without precedent. Even if the terms were outdated, it does not follow that the research findings are. This is just a further indication of the ideological bias of the report’s authors.
There is a discussion about different strands of feminism, which uses the derogatory term “TERF”.
Commentary on feminism or any other political movement has no place in a scientific review. The word “TERF” was recognised in the English High Court as being a derogatory term used to belittle and dismiss women who assert that in some instances birth sex matters and cannot be replaced by gender identity.
The language of gender identity ideology is used throughout, rather than scientific language.
The most egregious example is “TERF” as above, but the document is full of such language, which is not relevant to the study of male and female sport performance. For example, this statement referring to “cisgender” people:
“Many of the other papers included in the review refer to research exploring the performance difference between cisgender males and cisgender females to extrapolate the potential of a transgender advantage.”
The definitions are classic trans-activist ones, as explained above.
There are statements about gender and identity which have no relevance to sport, based as it is on sexed bodies, not on identities or sexual orientation. For example: “Existing studies demonstrate that public opinion on issues surrounding gender are often outdated or ill-informed. This is not always a sign of fault or choice, the legacy of Section 28 and other discriminatory legislation means that education about identities beyond heterosexual and cisgender was not easily accessible until recently.” The reference to Section 28 is purely ideological and completely irrelevant since it was thirty years ago and referred to sexual orientation, not gender identity.
The impact on trans people is considered but the impact on females is not.
In a section headed “Impacts in the individual”, a range of possible negative effects on people who present as transgender are reported. These social factors may be a relevant consideration in aiming for overall inclusion in sport, but they are totally irrelevant in the context of a scientific literature review. What would be relevant is the impact on females, in terms of fairness and in some cases safety. These are not even mentioned.
In summary, this is very far from a reliable or independent literature review.
There is one thing on which we agree with the authors. The report says “It is important to ensure consultation is driven by fact and relevant research, and not by the court of public opinion.” They say this knowing that public opinion is for female sport to be for females only.
This report, however, is short on facts and long on gender identity ideology and misinformation. Sports bodies which want to make fair policy based on sound evidence should ignore it and rely instead on the Sports Council Equality Group guidance.