Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist


There’s no debate: Transgender athletes have an unfair advantage

When it comes to competitive sport, gender identity is irrelevant.


There’s an ongoing debate around the world about transgender women competing in women’s sports. Is it fair and should it be allowed?

I feel like this entire issue could be resolved by people understanding and accepting the difference between the meaning of two words: ‘gender’ and ‘sex’.

Sex is biological. It’s a word used to identify whether we were born male or female, which is crucial to acknowledge in terms of human reproduction.

Gender is a social construct. It is used to determine where we feel we fit in as individuals in a society where having male or female characteristics help us feel comfortable in our own skin.

Therefore, when it comes to competitive sport, gender identity is irrelevant. The divisions we use between men and women are based entirely on genetic sex.

Testosterone boost

Biologically, men produce more testosterone, which makes them stronger and faster. Women generally have less testosterone, and for that reason it’s unfair to expect them to compete against men.

There are arguments which can be made to defend transgender athletes participating against women.

The most common is that transgender women can undergo hormone treatment to reduce their testosterone levels.

The problem with that is those people have had the benefits of male genetics since puberty. Even their bones and ligaments have benefited, which helps in various ways including strength training, recovery between training sessions and recovery from injuries.

So it’s not as simple as reducing testosterone production. It’s far more complicated than that.

Irrational debate

I support the rights of transgender people in our society and they should not be discriminated against for feeling comfortable in their own skin. But that has nothing to do with the divisions of sex in competitive sport.

When we talk about gender in sport, we’re not even having a rational debate. All that matters is biological sex, which can usually be determined by counting X and Y chromosomes (not always, but that’s a debate for another day).

Many sports federations have accepted this and have begun to stop transgender women from competing in the women’s category. Many have not, including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which oversees university sport in the United States where a lot of South African athletes are based.

Again, I want to make it clear, I support the rights of transgender people. But not when they want to compete in women’s sport.

They have an unfair advantage, regardless of how they identify, and this needs to be stopped.

Read more on these topics

Columns Transgender