The differences in men’s and women’s biology mean that men competing against women in sporting competition is unfair.  In contact sports, those physiological differences also put women at a greater risk of serious injury in competitions with biological men.

It is not fair or safe for women to allow biological men (no matter how they identify) to compete in women’s sport. 

Why is it unfair for women?

On average, men are physically stronger than women, with 66% more upper body muscle, and 50% more lower body muscle.  Being taller on average means they have an advantage in sports such as basketball and volleyball.
The average adult male has:
50% more muscle mass in his legs
75% more muscle mass in his arms
Larger heart and lungs, meaning more blood can be pumped to the body and body tissue receives more oxygen.  They also have higher haemoglobin levels, which means muscles are oxygenated more quickly and efficiently.
Bigger and stronger bones – this larger and stronger skeletal structure can hold more muscle.  Larger bones mean greater leverage.
A greater number of fast twitch muscle fibres – the muscle fibres that generate explosive power and rapid acceleration – beneficial in sports such as powerlifting, jumping and sprinting.
Broader shoulders and larger feet and hands – giving advantage in sports like swimming, and ball sports like handball, football, volleyball and basketball.[i]
These attributes mean unfair competition for women.
Women’s anatomy – which evolved for the biological functions of gestation and childbirth – means women have less stable hips and a less efficient gait than men. [ii]
Women marathon runners have higher body fat percentages than male marathon runners.
The strongest 10% of women can only beat the bottom 10% of men in one of the most widely-used measures of strength – hand grip.
Women’s speed records in swimming, running, kayaking, long and short distance running are all about 90% of men’s speed records in these sports.  In marathons, hundreds of men beat the best times in women’s marathons.
No matter how hard women athletes train, they cannot overcome those physiological advantages that give male athletes greater speed, stamina strength and size. 

Doesn’t reducing testosterone levels make it fair?

No. “By puberty, testosterone and other genetic determinants have set up the male body to be a stronger athletic performer through a stronger musculoskeletal system, and an enhanced cardiorespiratory system. These effects are not reformatted by lowering testosterone.” 

Transwomen athletes who do reduce their testosterone levels to qualify to compete in women’s competitions are allowed compete with testosterone levels that are between 4 and 20 times higher than the levels biological women are allowed compete with.

Many people born male who decide that they are now women do not undertake any medical or pharmaceutical measures to change anything about their bodies. Nothing about their biological sex changes - a person born male retains every aspect of their male physical advantage in sporting competition against women however they identify. But even those who elect to use hormones to develop secondary sexual characteristics such as a change in voice tone or creation of breasts are still biological males.  

It’s frequently claimed by those advocating for “inclusion” of trans women in women’s sport that the use of hormones reduces or even eliminates this male physical advantage.  It’s also often claimed that there’s no research that shows that trans women retain their male physical advantages.

Both claims are untrue.

There is research, and it shows that even after years using cross sex hormones, biological males retain these advantages. Two sports scientists, Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg, conducted peer-reviewed research into whether testosterone reduction removes male advantage in biological men who “identify” as women. The key finding in their paperTransgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage was:

 “Here, we report that current evidence shows the biological advantage, most notably in terms of muscle mass and strength, conferred by male puberty and thus enjoyed by most transgender women is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed as per current sporting guidelines for transgender athletes.”

Joanna Harper (a trans woman), Emma O’Donnell, Behzad Sorouri Khorashad, Hilary McDermott, Gemma L Witcomb conducted a review of current research in their paper:  How does hormone transition in transgender women change body composition, muscle strength and haemoglobin? Systematic review with a focus on the implications for sport participation. They found that haemoglobin levels do quickly reduce to the levels seen in biological women when a biological male uses hormone therapy.  But while hormone therapy does rapidly decrease strength, LBM and muscle area, those levels remain above those observed in biological women, even after 36 months.

Shouldn’t sport be “inclusive”?

The Victorian Women’s Guild considers that “inclusiveness” for one group should not come at the expense of fairness and safety for girls and women. 

Single-sex sporting competitions were set up for a very simple reason – in recognition that in sport, biology gives boys and men an unfair advantage over girls and women.  There is no genuine prospect of fair or equal competition in sport because these advantageous physical attributes are significant.

Sports science research confirms this long-understood fact, so it is ironic that decisions in sporting bodies from the Olympics to Australia’s national sporting bodies have selected the one “inclusiveness” option that makes sporting participation and competition unfair and unsafe for over 50% of the population - girls and women.

The IOC announced a review following the outcry against male-bodied athletes being allowed compete in women’s events in the Tokyo Olympics.  But their solution is for individual sports to devise their own guidelines – even though it is difficult to think of any sport where the advantages of being born male are not a threat to fairness and safety for women.
In Novemeber 2021, the IOC released its Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender
Identity and Sex Variations.
. It is left to the individual sporting bodies to set there eligibilty criteria based on the princilpes outlined in the Guidelines.

Discrimination legislation in Australia already allows for exclusion of a particular sex from participating in competitive sport where “strength, stamina or physique” is a factor. This is clearly intended to allow the exclusion of males from competition with sport where those factors create an unfair advantage for women. When discrimination legislation was changed to replace the word “sex” with “gender”, the doors were opened for biological males to compete in women’s competition simply by claiming they WERE women.

Some States and Territories use a formula to ascertain whether “strength, stamina or physique” is sufficiently relevant to that sport to warrant exclusion. In other States/Territories, there is a “reasonableness” test that includes an assessment of the consequences of exclusion, and whether people who are excluded have other opportunities to participate in that sport.

Both approaches are problematic and disadvantage women. There are very few sports where biology does not play a role in advantaging men over women. The “reasonableness” test does not take into account how “unreasonable” it is for women and girls to have to compete against biological males who identify as women or girls

But sporting bodies, including the Australian Institute of Sport have chosen to completely focus on “inclusion” rather than fairness and safety for women and girls.

When women have spoken out about the injustice of such a focus, their concerns have been dismissed as coming from a place of “bigotry” and “hate”, rather than from their understanding of the realities of human biology in the sporting arena. Women have been intimidated into not speaking out by sporting codes that threaten to ban them for being “transphobic; a woman has been threatened with a legal response for using social media to express her concerns about a biological male who competes in women’s competition and for calling on others to voice their opposition.

Why is it unsafe?

There are very few sports where one or more of the factors in the graphic above do not give males a distinct advantage over females – at whatever level of sporting competition.  

In contact sports the risk of girls and women being injured is the same whether at the elite or community sport level.  Concussion is already understood to be a significant risk in contact sports – pitting female heads against heftier male bodies puts females at a greater risk at all levels of sporting competition.

What’s happening in Australia?

In October 2020, eight Australian peak sporting bodies committed to “implementing governance that supports a greater level of inclusion for trans and gender diverse people in their sports”.  Most other peak sporting organisations are being lobbied to sign up to the same agreement.

All signatories oversee sports where biological men competing as transwomen have unfair physical advantages (explosive power, speed, strength, for example) that are not significantly reduced or eliminated even if testosterone levels are reduced to mandated levels.

Those signatories have committed to “inclusion” at all levels of sport, and even local sporting clubs will be pushed to include transgirls/transwomen in women’s competition, despite the obvious physical advantages.

Not one women’s sporting organisation or club was consulted about the agreement or advised of its impacts before it was signed.

This commitment was signed despite Australian discrimination legislation permitting exemptions where physical advantage would make competition unfair for women and girls. 

A spokesperson for ACON (the body that negotiated these unfair changes) completely dismissed concerns that this made women’s and girl’s competition unfair, unsafe, and unequal.  He provided no evidence to substantiate his claims and he did not provide any rebuttal of the mounting scientific evidence that soundly contradicts them.  (Apparently in the eyes of Pride in Sport lobbyists, “inclusion” is acceptable even if it makes it unfair for over 50% of the population.)

Save Women’s Sport has been established to lobby to rectify these injustices against women.[iv]

Rugby Australia is one of the signatories, despite the international rugby body determining that it was not safe or fair for women to play in competitions with biological males who identify as transwomen.

Ross Tucker, World Rugby’s Science and Research consultant, found (through research and consultation with all sides in the debate), that sporting competition can't achieve fairness and inclusivity when it comes to transgender athletes competing in elite woman's sport.

In 2022, WA Surfing’s Women’s Long Board surfing competition was won by Sasha Jane Lowerson who previously won the men’s competition. Lowerson wiped out all the previous women’s records and cleaned up all the prize money in the Women’s competition.. 

In April, 2023 Breeanna Gill won the Australian Women’s Classic – and walked away with over $100,000 of women’s prizemoney.

In June 2023, the Australian Institute of Sport released it's Trans and Gender-Diverse Inclusion Guidleines for HP Sport. The guidelines give a useful timeline on the evolution of the issue and leave it up to the individual sporting bodies to make their own policies. The Guidelines make what we consider to be a very important statement "Cis-gender female athletes should not be disadvantaged, in relation to fairness or safety, by the inclusion of gender-diverse individuals in the female category." (p 10 of the Guidelines)

Of course, trans people should also have a right to participate in sport. But there are other strategies, including having men’s sporting organisations and clubs support the participation of gender non-conforming males in their sports and on their teams, rather than making women’s sport and competition unfair and unsafe for women.  This has been successful overseas.

What are the rules on transgender inclusion in women's sports in Australia?

This is a list of links to the relevant policy documents of various sporting codes in Australia

Athletics   https://www.athletics.com.au/transgender-and-gender-diverse/

Cycling  See Section 6.6 of the National Member Protection Policy  https://assets.auscycling.org.au/s3fs-public/2020-10/ac_gov_001a_national-member-protection-policy-part-a.pdf

AFL   https://resources.afl.com.au/afl/document/2021/02/18/d6ed1dab-f21b-4d36-924b-6cac89687e8e/AM-7411-0920-AFL-GDP-Companion-Booklet-D5.pdf

Rugby https://d26phqdbpt0w91.cloudfront.net/NonVideo/6a1ddf88-90a8-40c3-86c6-d56083985674.pdf

Swimming - follows FINA policy https://resources.fina.org/fina/document/2022/06/19/525de003-51f4-47d3-8d5a-716dac5f77c7/FINA-INCLUSION-POLICY-AND-APPENDICES-FINAL-.pdf

Tennis – Community level https://play.tennis.com.au/Library/rydebalmaintennis?command=Proxy&lang=en&type=Documents&currentFolder=%2F&hash=d5a85bf3e387d3c1d3c8c6dcc6c1a06ea93242a5&fileName=TA%20Transgender%20Inclusion%20Guidelines%20-%20OFFICIAL.pdf

Netball Australia  https://netball.com.au/sites/default/files/2020-10/POLICY-INT015-Inclusion-of-Transgender-and-Gender-Diverse-Athletes-in-Elite-Netball-20200331.pdf

Golf  https://assets.ctfassets.net/3urhge2ecl20/70dl2y9M3BLFFQZuX299EK/0f7a0b2b39565583c0395e426ed9a323/00032376-source.pdf

Why does it matter?

Any trans athlete competing in women’s competitions at the Olympic games takes a place of a woman competitor – whether they win a medal or not.  And if they do win, it is at the expense of a woman competitor who has been subjected to unfair competition.

Girls and women are already under-represented in sport participation.  Having to play or compete in sport made unfair or unsafe or even just uncomfortable by the inclusion of male-bodied people makes it very likely that more girls and women will be deterred from participating.  They lose the benefits of sport – not only the health benefits, but benefits like camaraderie, commitment, control of emotions, teamwork for example – simply because the focus has been on “inclusion” which favours biological boys and men.

Funding is already lower for women’s sports than for men’s – fewer girls and women participating means that gap may well widen. 

Girls are likely to lose educational and sporting opportunities available through sporting scholarships to male-bodied people who identify as trans because of the physical advantages of male biology.

It’s worth noting that some States and countries allow for gender identification without any medical (including hormone suppressants or other drugs) or surgical transition.

Sport’s governing bodies should be implementing strategies that maximise participation in sport.  They should not adopt divisive and exclusionary policies and then demand that women and girls just accept and comply with those unfair and unsafe policies without question or dissent.

Participation of girls and women in sport is already an issue.  Girls drop out of sport at a worryingly high level.  Why would we add another factor – unfair competition – to worsen that? 

There’s a mantra often repeated in the media that trans people are being “banned from playing sport”.  Of course they are not – they are still able to compete in fair competition in their own sex class.  Perhaps the focus when “inclusion” is being spoken about should be what needs to change for sport to be genuinely inclusive AND fair.  The answer is male sporting competition.  Male sport should be ”inclusive” enough to ensure trans women feel included and welcomed to compete in their sex category. 

Trans men rarely get mentioned when “inclusion” in sport is talked about.  Why?  The same biology that makes competition between men and women unfair for women makes trans men no threat in male competition.  Their female biology means “fairness” is simply not an issue for biological men.

There’s another issue for trans girls and trans women if girl’s and women’s sport is open to them at the lower levels of competition.  

Biology will mean that there is every likelihood that trans girls and trans women (biological males) will dominate at lower-level competition.  Imagine being at the top of community level sport because of your male advantage but knowing that the elite levels of competition will not be open to you.  This will not make trans girls or women happy.  And the girls and women who haven’t had access to fair competition at any level are not going to be happy either.  

 Further Resources

Joyce, Helen. 2021. Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality. London:Oneworld Publications

Article by Kath Deves,Co-founder and spokeswoman for Save Women’s Sport Australasia 2021.

Article by Nicola Williams, Director of Fair Play for Women 2021

https://www.2gb.com/it-really-concerns-me-top-aussie-runner-speaks-out-against-transgender-athlete/ (2019 radio program featuring Tamsyn Lewis and Jane Fleming)

Sex Based Segregation & Fairness in Sports (12 min video from 2019)

A useful summary of the differences between male and female biology as it applies to sports