X Close

British Rowing sees sense on trans participation

Great Britain's female rowing team at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. Credit: Getty

August 4, 2023 - 11:30am

British Rowing is the latest sporting body to restore the integrity of women’s sport. From September, the organisation will operate three categories within competitions that it manages: open, women’s and mixed.

Eligibility for the first two follow the rules already proposed by Swim England. Crucially, women’s rowing competitions will be limited to those “assigned female at birth”. The language may grate — sex is observed at birth if not before — but the intent is to protect women’s sport for women. 

The mixed category is not a second open category. It allows men and women to compete alongside each other in a single team. The eligibility rules are consistent with the rest of the policy: in any mixed team, 50% of the crew must be eligible for the women’s category.

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi was among those welcoming British Rowing’s decision. She thanked the sporting body “from the bottom of my heart and from all the little girls who aspire to achieve in every sport they step into.” Antoniazzi understands the need to protect women’s sport from first-hand experience: before entering parliament, she won nine caps for Wales as a rugby union prop forward.

But women’s sport needs to be protected for all ages and all levels of ability. Antoniazzi’s reference to girls is important. Like Swim England, British Rowing has wisely decided that birth sex matters. Last week, UnHerd reported that World Aquatics is also set to adopt “open and female” categories. Yet as with World Athletics, its policy would leave open the door to transwomen who have not gone through male puberty. That is a mistake: male advantage does not begin at puberty.

That said, the tide is definitely turning in sport. Attempts to silence athletes and coaches — and indeed concerned members of the public — have failed. When male athletes compete in women’s sport, they are now openly criticised for their behaviour. After transgender swimmer Lia Thomas won a US NCAA division 1 title, former Olympian Sharron Davies argued that “Thomas is still a male”, and pointed out the obvious outcome — that women are going to lose the ability to win their own races.

It now seems a long time since the Tokyo Olympics, when the world observed the spectacle of 43-year-old transwoman Laurel Hubbard competing against women in their twenties. After crashing out in last place, Hubbard’s competitors had far better things to talk about. When quizzed about it, the medallists responded with nine seconds of steely silence, before bronze medal-winner Sarah Robles added, quite simply, “no, thank you.”

The International Olympic Committee itself needs to take heed of Robles’s words. The organisation is still encumbered by a “framework that presumed that “athletes should not be deemed to have an unfair or disproportionate advantage due to their […] transgender status,” and put the onus on governing bodies to prove otherwise. 

As those organisations — one-by-one — adopt fair and inclusive “open and female” arrangements, the IOC is increasingly at risk of looking isolated and ridiculous. Sport can be open and inclusive without denying reality, but can the IOC?


Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.

DebbieHayton

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

13 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
11 months ago

Yes, the language does grate. “Determined at conception” is the correct formulation.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
11 months ago

Yes, the language does grate. “Determined at conception” is the correct formulation.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
11 months ago

I can understand that a person can feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body. But in a sport such as rowing, it is the man’s body that is competing, not the trapped woman.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
11 months ago

Excellent point that highlights why the trans activists are averse to reasoned debate and instead use underhand tactics to silence the opponents.

Last edited 11 months ago by Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
11 months ago

Excellent point that highlights why the trans activists are averse to reasoned debate and instead use underhand tactics to silence the opponents.

Last edited 11 months ago by Aphrodite Rises
Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
11 months ago

I can understand that a person can feel like a woman trapped in a man’s body. But in a sport such as rowing, it is the man’s body that is competing, not the trapped woman.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

The Ancient Olympic Games were performed GYMNOS – stark naked from at least 720 BC*, to use Christian chronology.
All competitive sport should do so again, and that would soon sort out all this ‘Trans’ nonsense.

(* At least according to one Dionysius, of Halicarnassus.)

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
11 months ago

That wouldn’t sort it out. Yes, it would distinguish the over 85% of men who claim womanhood whilst retaining their male genitalia but not necessarily those who do surgically alter their external sexual characteristics or those whose DSDs create externally ambiguous genitalia.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  S Wilkinson

Are there women who claim they are men?

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago
Reply to  S Wilkinson

Are there women who claim they are men?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
11 months ago

I’m not sure it would deter the most determined competitors, but would make for an interesting spectacle. This said, the likes of Thomas would incur a streamlining disadvantage without a ladies’ swimsuit to tuck the family jewels away.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

It might ‘save’ The Commonwealth Games.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

It might ‘save’ The Commonwealth Games.

S Wilkinson
S Wilkinson
11 months ago

That wouldn’t sort it out. Yes, it would distinguish the over 85% of men who claim womanhood whilst retaining their male genitalia but not necessarily those who do surgically alter their external sexual characteristics or those whose DSDs create externally ambiguous genitalia.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
11 months ago

I’m not sure it would deter the most determined competitors, but would make for an interesting spectacle. This said, the likes of Thomas would incur a streamlining disadvantage without a ladies’ swimsuit to tuck the family jewels away.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
11 months ago

The Ancient Olympic Games were performed GYMNOS – stark naked from at least 720 BC*, to use Christian chronology.
All competitive sport should do so again, and that would soon sort out all this ‘Trans’ nonsense.

(* At least according to one Dionysius, of Halicarnassus.)

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
11 months ago

Thank You, Debbie!!! Stay generous and brave. We See You.

Penny Adrian
Penny Adrian
11 months ago

Thank You, Debbie!!! Stay generous and brave. We See You.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
11 months ago

‘Open’

Meaning the men’s category. Just call it the men’s category.

Last edited 11 months ago by Derek Smith
Derek Smith
Derek Smith
11 months ago

‘Open’

Meaning the men’s category. Just call it the men’s category.

Last edited 11 months ago by Derek Smith
William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago

The open category is a hateful, anti-trans development.
Trans-women need a category of their own which excludes male competitors.
These new categories ensure there is no category in which they can successfully compete.
Expect a lawsuit to fight this injustice.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

There are many kinds of people who cannot successfully compete in competitive sports. Why should trans women be given a separate category ahead of them? Why should they be prioritised?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Not going to be many competitors though, eh? Back to my proposal for a Superstars style event where Bridges, Hubbard, Thomas, et al. all compete against each other in a round robin tournament.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

There are many kinds of people who cannot successfully compete in competitive sports. Why should trans women be given a separate category ahead of them? Why should they be prioritised?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
11 months ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Not going to be many competitors though, eh? Back to my proposal for a Superstars style event where Bridges, Hubbard, Thomas, et al. all compete against each other in a round robin tournament.

William Shaw
William Shaw
11 months ago

The open category is a hateful, anti-trans development.
Trans-women need a category of their own which excludes male competitors.
These new categories ensure there is no category in which they can successfully compete.
Expect a lawsuit to fight this injustice.

Last edited 11 months ago by William Shaw