April 13, 2024

Here’s what we learnt from BBC’s brilliant new documentary on transgender people in sport

Martina later deleted the tweet and promised to investigate the subject further. The result is a one-off BBC documentary,The Trans Athlete Dispute with Martina Navratilova, that sets out to open up the debate by meeting with a range of athletes, trans women and scientists.

With a growing number of transathletes competing at the highest level, the overarching question the documentary addresses is whether there are physical advantages transwomen may have over female athletes in competitions.

In December 2018, the former Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova, hit global headlines when she tweeted: “You can’t just proclaim yourself a female and be able to compete against women. There must be some standards, and having a penis and competing as a woman would not fit that standard”. Unsurprisingly, her comments sparked major backlash and were seized upon by the trans-community.

Amongst her interviewees is a trans woman at the beginning of her transition who wants to be able to continue to play football but for a women’s team, a Canadian transwoman who was a top ranking amateur runner before she started hormone treatment and a sports inclusion legal expert.

Here at GLAMOUR, this is what we took away from this relevant and timely documentary…

The physical advantages of male puberty are minimal once you’ve been through hormone therapy

Martina is concerned about the possible strength and speed advantages that trans women may have over female athletes in competitions. To research the topic further, the tennis pro goes to Loughborough University to talk to sports therapists who are embarking on research into the performance of trans women athletes before, during and after transition. While science proves there are physiological advantages for men due to their muscle mass and testosterone production, these are drastically minimiSed once an individual has been through hormone therapy.

Martina met Joanna, who was a top 20 runner in Canada throughout college, but after three weeks of hormone therapy, her performance was remarkably slower. Within 9 months, Joanna was running 12% slower.

Research is lagging behind debates

Loughborough University is conducting unprecedented research into the
performance of trans women athletes before, during and after transition. This is the first of its kind, which highlights the lack of research on the subject. While debate is rife, research is undoubtedly lagging behind.

To inform policy properly, it will be at least 5 years

Until more research on the merging of transright and elite sports is conducted, no real conclusions or meaningful rules can be put in place.

Women’s sport won’t look the same in 10 years

The takeaway of the documentary is that women’s sport will look very different in ten years time. As research into the subject grows, new guidelines are likely to be drawn. Will the binary be dissolved and sports become mixed? Only time will tell.

The Trans Athlete Dispute with Martina Navratilova on Wednesday 26th June, 9pm, BBC One.

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