Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

Gender is relevant in society, but not in sport

There is a real difference between sex and gender and it's important for us to acknowledge this before we even have the discussion.

In this day and age, some subjects are best avoided, but there is a debate raging overseas and it’s headed this way, so we’d better start talking.

Firstly, I apologise in advance if my comments cause offence. That is not my intention.

I know I’m skating on thin ice here, but let me see if I can get across this lake without sinking into a frozen abyss.

The heated discussion around transgender athletes is largely restricted to the United States for now, due to open rules on the popular collegiate and high school circuits, but it’s an issue which the rest of the world is going to have to deal with as well.

As much as our society is changing for the better, however, with people generally becoming more accepting and open to the concept of equality, the reality is that the rights of transgender athletes in sport is essentially an irrelevant debate.

There is a real difference between sex and gender and it’s important for us to acknowledge this before we even have the discussion.

The division that exists between men and women in sport is purely based on biological sex because it’s all about natural testosterone production, which makes a massive difference in terms of physical strength and speed.

People who are born biologically male produce far more testosterone than those who are biologically female, and this has nothing to do with gender, which is a social construct tied to our personal identities.

We must, of course, respect people’s identities and their genders. But gender should never determine categories in sport. All that matters is biological sex.

In some sports, transgender athletes have been cleared to compete in the women’s division provided they take hormone suppressants to reduce their natural testosterone levels, but this does not eliminate the physiological benefits a biological man receives from decades of high testosterone production before they transition.

And in other codes, at various levels, the situation is even more concerning because transgender athletes are not required to do anything at all. Provided they identify as women, they can compete against women.

This approach makes a complete mockery of our understanding of the human body by confusing physical attributes with emotional thoughts. Both matter in society, but only one of them matters in sport.

In sport, divisions are created by physical attributes, not personal identity, and if we’re going to confuse these two things, we are essentially removing the women’s category and creating one open division for everyone.

We should respect each other’s genders, but we should also respect the reasons we have divisions in sport.

If we don’t, it will be incredibly unfair on biological women who simply don’t (on average) have the physical attributes to compete fairly against biological men.

Divisions in sport were not created based on gender, and gender should not be the reason they are removed.

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