Last week Lia Thomas won gold at the USA student championships. The interesting point of all this is that Lia Thomas is a trans woman and her victory has sparked a rather feverish debate on the subject of men transitioning to women and competing in women's sport.
When Lia was a man, he was ranked 462nd; as a women, she wins gold and is ranked number one. It all kicked off on Twitter last week and was one of those threads that just sucks you in. On this side of the pond, former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies decried the victory as an attack on women's sport. She was roundly supported and attacked by the twitteratti.
On the other side of the pond, the usual conservative groups were out demonstrating against the win, echoing much of what Davies was saying. Notably though, trans celebrity Caitlyn Jenner, also an ex-Olympian, spoke out against the inclusion of trans people in elite sport. It is strange, being socially liberal, to find myself on the same side as the conservatives, but you believe what you believe until convinced otherwise.
Generally, I support trans rights and am conscious that many trans children take their own lives, much like gay children in conservative, religious environments. So, I am not going to join the ranks of the abuse givers, but on the issue of competitive sport I have yet to see a compelling argument for the inclusion of trans men in women's sport.
The argument that Sharron Davies uses is compelling. Lia Thomas was allowed to compete as a female as she had taken testosterone blocking drugs for the required time, lowering her hormone level to that of a woman. Under official sporting rules that is all that is required, but as Davies points out anyone who has experienced a male puberty will have physiological differences to girls, specifically more muscle mass and, crucially, a higher VO2 Max.
As a cyclist I know how crucial your VO2 Max is to how good a cyclist you will be. Your VO2 Max is how well your body processes the oxygen that you breathe to supply your muscles with energy. The average male has a VO2 Max of 42ml while a woman averages 31ml. Training may increase your score by 25%, but elite athletes are born with naturally higher levels. Tour de France winner Chris Froome was tested before a race and had a score of 88ml. So, while Lia had lowered levels of testosterone, she would have naturally bigger muscles producing naturally more energy.
Depressingly, the chattering classes are now trying to get Davies to shut up and the push to have her cancelled is in full swing. They argue that she is being exclusive, but sport already is exclusive for reasons of fairness. Heavy-weights can't fight middle-weights for official titles and the under 50s can't enter Masters Cycling races. Trans people have the right to live how they want and be treated with respect, but a woman's right to fair sport should be inviolable.