Fallout from FINA’s ruling on transgender athletes: Soccer and other sports likely to follow, rugby bans transgender players from international competitions

June 21, 2022 • 9:30 am

Here’s a bit of fallout from yesterday’s decision on the participation of transgender people in swimming.

As I discussed yesterday, FINA, the governing body of international swimming, diving, and other water sports, has issued its new (but possibly provisional) rules on competition of transgender athletes. They call for the exclusion of transgender women from competition with biological women if the transgender women have gone through the most critical part of male puberty; the allowing of all transgender athletes to compete in the “men’s” category; and the creation of a new “open” category for transgender women who have gone through most of puberty.

This seemed to me a sensible solution, since it’s male puberty itself that gives transgender women an athletic advantage, while basing the rules on testosterone level and period of lowered testosterone (or on nothing at all in some places) is confusing and less supportable by research.

Now, according to this article in the Times of London (click on screenshot), the FINA rules may soon be applied more widely. The article actually has appeared twice with the same link but two different headlines (the newer one includes rugby news), so I’ll put the second headline below. Click either to read, though you may get paywalled:

Let’s leave rugby for the end, as the first story reflects what may be a wider decision.

World Athletics is the world governing body for amateur sports, except apparently water sports. It also governs who can compete in the Olympics. Wikipedia describes its mission like this:

World Athletics is the international governing body for the sport of athletics, covering track and field, cross country running, road running, race walking, mountain running, and ultra running. Included in its charge are the standardization of rules and regulations for the sports, certification of athletic facilities, recognition and management of world records, and the organisation and sanctioning of athletics competitions, including the World Athletics Championships. The organisation’s president is Sebastian Coe of the United Kingdom, who was elected in 2015 and re-elected unopposed in 2019 for a further four years.

President Coe just issued a statement implying that his organization is likely to follow FINA in other sports, and these sports may be many. As the Times reported in the earlier story:

World Athletics is likely to follow swimming in imposing a ban on transgender athletes from elite women’s races, with its president, Lord Coe, stressing that “biology trumps gender” when it comes to fairness in competition.

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, is also considering following the international swimming federation Fina’s new policy, which states that anyone who has gone through male puberty cannot take part in female competitions regardless of whether they have transitioned to become a woman.

Fina plans to create an open category and a protected female category. Coe said athletics’ rules are being reviewed but he made it clear which side of the argument he falls on and applauded swimming for its stance.

“We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport,” Coe said. “This is as it should be. We have always believed, and repeated constantly, that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this.

“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport and we take that very seriously. If it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will. And I’ve always made it clear.

“If we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness. You have to, you have to, and that’s my responsibility.”

. . . On the debate around the participation of transgender athletes specifically, Coe added: “Transgender is a societal issue, it’s not a new issue. But, in sport, it certainly is. And, as you know, in 2019, we brought into alignment our DSD and our transgender regulations. And, again, in transgender, that is something that we are also looking at.

“Biology trumps gender” is the operant phrase here, but I’m not sure how much influence Coe has on the rules concocted by his association.

Below Coe takes up the issue of whether these new sports rules reflect “transphobia” or other animus against transgender people, and he denies it, as do all of us who think the issue of sports deserves a carve-out among transgender issues.

“If one of my colleagues here in my team suddenly becomes transgender, it doesn’t make a difference to me. They will continue to do the same job, they will continue to do the same job with skill and aplomb in exactly the way they were before they made that transition. This is not possible in sport. It is fundamental to performance and integrity and that, for me, is the big, big difference.”

Further, the FINA rules dictate that athletes with the “46 XY DSD” syndrome, who have a male X/Y chromosome constitution but with abnormal or ambiguous genitalia, must also compete in the men’s category. I believe Caster Semenya has this syndrome, but she was allowed to compete in the Olympics against biological women, winning several medals. If the FINA rules are adopted by World Athletics, she must compete against men.

As for football (soccer), the governing body is also contemplating adopting FINA’s rules, though I haven’t heard of any issues around transgender females competing in women’s soccer. (As always, the issue is about women’s sports: few people have any qualms about allowing transgender men to compete in men’s sports.)

Football’s world governing body, Fifa, is also considering following the international swimming federation Fina’s new policy, which states that anyone who has gone through male puberty cannot take part in female competitions regardless of whether they have transitioned to become a woman.

The FA’s [Football Association, the governing body of UK soccer] chairwoman Debbie Hewitt also said that any policy had to ensure fairness as well as inclusion. The FA is working on guidelines for grassroots football which may be different to those in elite competition.

Finally, the rugby news was added since I first read this piece two days ago.

Transgender athletes have been blocked from competing in women’s international rugby league matches, including this year’s World Cup, with football and athletics set to impose similar bans.

The International Rugby League (IRL) said it would use the end-of-year event to help develop a “transwomen inclusion policy” for the future which “takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league”.

Note that there are two types of rugby: Rugby League football is a full-contact sport with 13 players on each team. Ruby union has less contact and 15 players on each team. Right now they have different rules about how transgender women can compete with biological women: Rugby union will adhere to the FINA standards, but right now rugby league uses a testosterone titer (see below).  The International Rugby League, which governs the rugby league version of the sport, may well also revert to the FINA standards.

As noted below, the rules about who can compete in women’s leagues is a confusing farrago depending on the sport. Rules often rely on testosterone titer and duration of treatment, and there is no uniform standard. As the athletic advantages of male puberty apply across nearly every sport, I see no reason not to apply a uniform standard across all sports in which males gain an athletic advantage through puberty. Based on current research, the FINA standard seems to me the best present alternative. It can and should, of course, be re-examined as future research comes in. 

Here are the current standards for transgender women’s participation in various sports as given in the Times:

Olympics The IOC encourages international federations to have their own individual policies and has dropped its previous guidelines for testosterone levels to be below 10 nanomoles (nmol) per litre for 12 months.
Swimming
: Players who have gone through male puberty are not allowed to swim in elite female competition.
Athletics
: World Athletics’ policy is under review but its existing rules state that transgender women can compete in female competition if their testosterone levels have been below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
Football
: Fifa is conducting a consultation process but senior figures say it is likely that players who have gone through male puberty would not be able to play in elite female competition, or only with greatly reduced testosterone levels. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis at present.
Cycling
: The UCI last week cut the maximum testosterone level allowed in transgender women riders to 2.5 nmol per litre instead of five, with a two-year transition period instead of 12 months.
Cricket
: The ECB is reviewing its policy for domestic cricket which allows transgender women to take part in elite female competitions subject to approval by the governing body. The ICC’s policy allows trans women to play women’s cricket at international level if their testosterone level has been under 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
Rugby union
: Transgender women who transitioned post-puberty and have experienced the biological effects of testosterone during puberty and adolescence cannot currently play women’s rugby.
Rugby league
: The international federation is expected to announce a new policy by the end of the year. At the moment it also has the rule of testosterone levels being below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.
Tennis
: The ITF also follows the rule of testosterone levels being below 5 nmol per litre for 12 months.

As far as I know, the American Civil Liberties Union hasn’t yet weighed in on the FINA swimming guidelines, but if you look at their page of assertions about transgender athletes, it’s likely they’ll raise a ruckus.

Here are the four FACTS asserted by the ACLU in large, bold type:

FACT: Including trans athletes will benefit everyone.

FACT: Trans athletes do not have an unfair advantage in sports

FACT: Trans girls are girls.

FACT: Trans people belong on the same teams as other students.

None of these are facts; they are all opinions, and the first and second opinions can in principle be tested.  But I’ll leave the ACLU alone for now. By dying on this hill, they’re only making themselves look bad.

33 thoughts on “Fallout from FINA’s ruling on transgender athletes: Soccer and other sports likely to follow, rugby bans transgender players from international competitions

  1. A lost battle for the Woke.
    A big victory for the Woke.
    They are hardly vanquished. They could easily still win the war. I predict they will howl over the exclusion with all aspects of their pitch, to test the strength of the opposition’s counter argument, then they’ll just go cold on ‘sports’ for a while. A trivial ‘sacrifice.’

    Like an army with an expendable blitz division far out ahead of the main force, always fighting for the most radical advance, always with a strategic retreat at the ready. Before the battle, the brains predicted how far forward the settled line will be after the blitzers fall back, and post-battle often it is out ahead of the majority opinion.

    Many of their achievements remain untouched.

    For instance, 1) a boy with (carefully observed and plotted) minimal transition can still swim in women’s events, and the minimal will not have erased every aspect of his advantage as a boy/man. Lawyers from ACLU will constantly agitate at the fringes of this; 2) college and high school sports have not changed; 3) Woke will get their “own” swimming events at meets, where Woke flag will fly high as free advertising. Gold metals there will ‘need to be’ valorized equally with the other two categories. Will the Olympics be forced by law to broadcast the “open” category?

    This should not have been an “exclusion.” It should have been an outright “inclusion” as follows. “FINA’s policy is to certify athletes according to their sex. No men will be entered in Women’s competition, and no women in Men’s.”

    The word “transgender” ought not and need not have appeared.

    The word “gender” ought not and need not have appeared.

    As the high-placed swimming official said when resigning over a man welcomed in woman’s NCAA college competitions said “Sex swims. Identity does not.”

    Woke will send out skirmishers in the coming years, armed with tactics to worm around and through the complicated and confused criteria of “what is a woman.” ACLU will be in the forefront.

    This was a grand opportunity to annihilate the Woke position, lost.

    1. As for the expected howling from the activists against these decisions: working in the favor of biology and safety is the slow bureaucratic process that is central to these governing bodies. They won’t cave in for years because of that alone.

    2. Please, please, stop using the term “woke,” other than as a verb, eg, “I woke her up.” Some folks know how to use it otherwise, but most of those using it these days do not. And even amongst those who do, it’s close to being too passé for further use.

  2. It doesn’t make any difference to the arguments about who can play on women’s teams but I would say that it is not really true that rugby union is less of a contact sport than rugby league. Both sports, especially at the elite level, are extremely physical and there has been growing concern about repeated concussions experienced by players and the long term impact these have. As in other full contact sports concussion protocols have been tightened in order to try and mitigate this risk.

    1. Ruby (sic) Union is actually much more of a contact sport. In League, when a player is tackled, play stops and the player back-heels the ball to a teammate behind. In Union, the tackle is often contested ferociously. League has comparatively few rucks and mauls, which are key parts of the Union game. And the set scrums in League are a joke. (Mind you, they often are in Union, for different reasons).

      And trans women have been banned from women’s RU for some time. I don’t know why it’s taken League so long to catch up.

  3. Without wishing to get into a slanging match with league fans, I’ll just note that on the basis of watching both it’s difficult to say that Rugby Union is less of a contact sport than League. (You could potentially make the opposite assertion – but they are both contact sports)

    1. Having played both codes, the idea that union is less of a full contact sport than league is somewhat nonsensical, particularly from a front row forward’s perspective. There are more tackles in league, as play is restarted with a play-the-ball after each completed tackle, but for the same reason there is no rucking or mauling which present different physical challenges.

  4. ” If one of my colleagues here in my team suddenly becomes transgender, it doesn’t make a difference to me. They will continue to do the same job, they will continue to do the same job with skill and aplomb in exactly the way they were before they made that transition…”

    And if that was a prime example of an attitude which wasn’t “transphobic” — and if that was all trans ppl were asking, to continue on after the transition just as they did before — then there’d be no real difficulty for the vast majority of people. Unfortunately, no.

    The definition of “transphobia” is “the fear, hatred,DISBELIEF and mistrust of trans people” (Planned Parenthood.) What they want believed is that for all intents and purposes they are the sex/gender they say they are. Trust them. They would know. Case closed.

    Cole’s rationale doesn’t take that into account, and his explanation for why he’s not being transphobic would be jumped on and devoured by trans activists. No exceptions carved out for women’s sports, women’s prisons, women’s changing rooms, women’s domestic abuse shelters, etc. etc.

    1. The definition of “transphobia” is “the fear, hatred,DISBELIEF and mistrust of trans people” (Planned Parenthood.)

      Woke Concept Creep strikes again! Let me guess, disbelieving that they are the sex/gender they say they are is literal violence that causes trauma?

    2. Which is why the open category will never be acceptable to the trans-activists. It addresses entirely the wrong point. It’s not “how do we accommodate the desire of trans women to play sport”; it’s “how do we affirm that trans women are women”.

      1. If there was a ‘like’ button, I think you would rack them up.
        Succintly and edifyingly phrased.
        Me ‘like’.

  5. This seems like a rational solution. I’m not sure that measuring testosterone levels for the last 12 months will work though. It’s my understanding that those levels vary widely among individuals and don’t correlate closely to physical attributes. An athlete could have had high levels during puberty but low levels now.

    1. Yes. Amounts of T will fluctuate, and there is also variation in how much is absorbed and it is really that which matters. There are cases of people who have male-levels of testosterone coming from otherwise useless testes, and they are genetically male. But they look female in all ways, including strength, bc they really don’t respond strongly to testosterone.

  6. I would say that at least three of the four statements by the ACLU are “Factual Statements,” in that they are not statements of mere personal opinion, such as for instance, “I like vanilla shakes better than strawberry shakes”*. As such, they can be objectively true or false, though it seems clear that with their bold “FACT” they mean to imply that these statements are proven true beyond some reasonable doubt, or at least to intimidate readers into assuming that they have been so proven.

    *(I like them a bit better but it depends on who is making them and if real strawberries are involved…)

  7. Hate to be that guy; Rugby Union has more physical contact for the forwards than Rugby League. Rucks, mauls, lineouts and contested scrums in Rugby Union are absent from Rugby League

  8. “Further, the FINA rules dictate that athletes with the “46 XY DSD” syndrome, who have a male X/Y chromosome constitution but with abnormal or ambiguous genitalia, must also compete in the men’s category.” This seems odd to me. I don’t understand the rationale for forcing women, who have always been women and were raised as women to compete as men. That some with this particular syndrome have an advantage in athletic ability seems like an unfair reason. Surely most people in high level sports have genetic advantages over the rest of us. Just because their advantages don’t have a name they still get to compete as women.

    1. These rules are specifically about athletes like Caster Semenya who are males; completed male puberty with testes; developed and matured under the effects of male-typical testosterone production; but have unusual secondary sex traits including the appearance of the external genitalia with undescended (internal) testes.

      The rationale seems simple and fair: these folks are genetically and physiologically male, and have many morphological traits that are typical of males (greater height, limb length, muscle mass, heart & lung volume, bone density), but have a few other morphological traits that are not typical of most males (especially external genital development). In the specific case of Semenya, she identifies as a woman, but in photos of her in competition it’s relatively easy to pick her out as the only morphological male among the other women on the track, and typically far ahead of the other women on the track. I don’t think it’s unfair to exclude males like her (sorry I know others may hate that phrase) from elite women’s athletics, so long as she also has the opportunity to compete in the men’s division or an open division. And so long as she’s treated with kindness and respect otherwise.

      1. I’m finding this a little difficult to parse. The reason that Caster Semenya has unusual secondary sex traits is because her testosterone receptors don’t respond typically to the presence of the hormone so I don’t see how her puberty was male typical. Also she is only 2% better on average than her female peers, not the 12% that you on average see between top female and top male athletes in her events. So demanding she be treated as a male is to effectively end her sporting career. All because she is believed to have a slight genetic advantage over other women with whom she is competing. That doesn’t seem fair on the face of it. YMMV

        1. Hi Tony. True our views of fairness might differ.

          “Also she is only 2% better on average than her female peers, not the 12% that you on average see between top female and top male athletes in her events.”

          Sure agreed the differences in her specific case are smaller. I think this just means that Semenya is not a “top male athlete”, but rather she’s merely a pretty good one.

          I think the rules should exclude all male athletes including the non-elite ones. Semenya’s career best outdoor time in the 800 metres is 1:54.25 (at the 2018 IAAF Diamond League). In 2022 alone there were dozens of high school boys who ran an 800 faster than that (https://www.athletic.net/TrackAndField/). The population of non-elite male athletes is so huge that even a small proportion of them who identify as trans or have DSDs could exclude many elite female athletes from competition. That doesn’t seem fair.

        2. It’s neigh impossible to find a solution that fits each individual case. I think intersex athletes like Caster Semenya should be allowed into a third, open category if there is one. This will be a very heterogeneous category, whether it can or should be split any further will be seen.

          1. Sorry, by open I meant open to everyone who is either true intersex or transgender with hormone treatment. Men who are men in all sports-relevant aspects should compete with men no matter how they identify.

          2. I don’t think there is a practical need for an open category, Ruth. If mediocre biological men are not allowed to compete against women—and they shouldn’t be—they just won’t bother to compete at all and the problem will solve itself.

            Sabine Hossenfelder quotes the proportion of trans-gender (not intersex/DSD) in the population as 0.7%. There is no reason to think that this population is enriched for athleticism compared to the rest of us, and when you look at Pride Festival attendees, the reverse is likely true. So 0.7% is far too small a pool to sustain any meaningful, watchable, or sponsorable competition in a range of events. Whom would Caster Semenya compete against? Lia Thomas? Fallon Fox?

            I suppose it’s conceivable that some boys and men who realized they weren’t going to make the elite level would self-declare as trans and take token hormone treatments in order to win amongst the less intense competition offered by other men and boys doing the same. This would be parallel to American football players who aren’t good enough to play in the NFL coming north to play in the Canadian Football League which is a slightly different game. It has a following here, apparently, but there is nowhere near as much money in it. You don’t have to meet any special rules to play in the CFL—you don’t have to be Canadian—you just didn’t make the cut for the NFL.

            They can do whatever they want as long as they are excluded from women’s competition.

    2. Here’s the rationale as I understand it, Tony. These XY DSD athletes weren’t women raised as women. They were males, boys, raised as girls because their genitalia would have made it socially awkward for them to be naked with other boys or even pee in urinals with them. (Depending on the sophistication of medicine where they grew up, they may or may not have known their diagnosis.). At puberty with functioning testes (often undescended) they developed the physical strength and stamina typical of male XY endowment. If they started to win in elite events they would eventually have to take a doping test which would reveal male levels of endogenous testosterone. They are not girls with usually high levels of natural T. They are boys going through puberty.

      They may have grown up thinking of themselves quite honestly and sincerely as girls, but as athletes they are like adult men. As Sebastian Coe put it, (quoting from memory), It is not the role of elite sport to enable an athlete to live fully in a role he aspires to be, but is not. If an athlete is XY, produces testosterone, and is not insensitive to testosterone, he must compete in the men’s events. If he is not sufficiently endowed to win there but could beat all the women who ever competed, well, life is not always fair. The XX women competing in these events have views about fairness, too.

      What I have said is based on a composite of XY boys born with various DSDs, not relating to a specific person. To form a proper opinion about any individual athlete, you would have to know full details of his or her medical history which ought not to have been leaked to the public but in some cases were, partially and selectively for advocacy purposes.

      Edit after I saw your other reply to Mike: I don’t know how you can know anything about the testosterone receptors of any particular person and what impact that would have on athletic ability, I don’t want to comment medically about a person by name but it is not surprising to me that a boy or man with DSD might well have enough testosterone effect plus natural ability to be only a little better than the best women but nowhere near enough to even run with a pack of elite men. But as regards Caster Semenya, she had the chance to argue her case with the duly constituted sanctioning authority, got a hearing, and lost.

      1. My understanding is that the insensitivity of the androgen receptors is what is responsible for the underdevelopment or non-development of the male external and secondary sex characteristics. If the receptors were working the same as in a typical male then these female presenting XY people would look male and the entire issue would never arise.

        1. Even if that’s true about a particular XY individual, it’s as if a man’s thigh muscles did not fully develop so that he could never be as strong a cyclist or runner as an elite man. That does not entitle him to compete against women just because he can beat them, barely.

          Whatever, everyone is entitled to an opinion but the only opinion that counts is that of the governing body for the relevant sport: for swimmers, FINA says an XY who makes testosterone and does not have complete androgen insensitivity cannot compete against women if he has gone through male puberty. Such an athlete can call herself a woman, trans-queer, two-spirit, gender-fluid, Alice, whatever she wants and can live a happy unmolested life as a woman. She just can’t compete in elite women’s events.

          Nothing further to say on this. If you think this is unjust, you should take it up with FINA or with Sebastian Coe, not here.

      2. Semeneya doesn’t have any trouble with testoterona but with dehydrotestorena, which is necessary to release the development of the penis and externar testes as well as some other external male features, while in utero. Her/Their condition is 46 xy 5ARD (despite the medical profile should be private, their condition has been widely given out the media). There are some other runners in female sports with this condition. Biologically they are male, they have internal functional testes and their cells functional testoterone receptors. But… many newspapers made a fuss with this DSD proclaiming that Semeneya is a cis-woman, which is not true. She, of course, can identify as a woman, be legally a woman in almost every respect, but when it comes to high competition, or sports in general, she has the advantages of a male puberty as well as many physical and physiological features equal to male runners.

  9. Actually it was rugby union that was the first to implement this policy, so FINA and the others are following them, not the other way around:

    https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2020/10/09/a-ban-by-world-rugby-could-prove-influential-for-transgender-sports

    World Rugby ruled that trans-women couldn’t play in the international women’s game back in 2020, on grounds of both fairness and safety. (Its writ doesn’t run to domestic matches, though). It was the first big sporting body to break from the IOC’s rules. And it did it in the best possible way, with all the evidence presented in public and the whole process as transparent as possible.

    They got roasted, of course. But that’s the price for being the first to stick up for women’s rights, I suppose!

  10. When someone wants to support his opinion by prefacing it with a capitalized FACT, I always wave it off. In most cases, in my experience, the arguments that are supposed to support these FACTS are incomplete, selective or quite obviously wrong.

    2.5 years of Corona and numerous “discussions” with Corona deniers and vaccination opponents have confirmed my attitude often enough.

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