Column: Bring compassion to competition, clarify transgender rules
Last year, preparing to compete at a World Masters Athletics meet in Spain, I did what any truly competitive athlete would do: I researched my competition.
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Last year, preparing to compete at a World Masters Athletics meet in Spain, I did what any truly competitive athlete would do: I researched my competition. In doing so, I learned that one of those I’d be running against had been sentenced, per regulations, to five years for doping, served that time, and was now eligible to run again.
A second competitor, I learned, was a male-to-female transgender athlete. Both WMA and USA Track and Field have regulations related to that, too, but they’re less precise and more vaguely enforced. I made inquiries about that, and was told I’d get answers.
That was a year, four months, and several races ago, and I still have no answers. What I do have are a lot more questions.
Was this person I ran against in Spain even eligible to compete? No one could or would tell me. How can officials conduct a track meet with no enforcement or knowledge of their own rules? Even the head referee at the Spain event suggested I file a formal complaint. I did. Nothing came of that either.
I was warned that, for my own safety, I should keep my mouth shut. I was widely derided as “transphobic,” simply for asking the same questions that were being asked in other sports and — increasingly — in courts of law. A psychologist on social media told me my questions were just my way of rationalizing my loss to a transgender athlete.
The thing is, I actually won. Twice.
When you ask these questions, the assumption, automatically, is that you have some bitter ax to grind. It doesn’t seem to occur to many people that my motivation might actually be compassion for everyone involved … for the transwomen wishing to compete … for the born-women athletes standing on the line beside them … for young girls, like my daughter, who are coming of age in a state where fairness in sports needs to be clarified.
Previous guidelines, for instance, suggest that most male athletes are not physically stronger than their female counterparts. That’s not true. My No. 1 world time for women age 40-44 is faster than that of any female high school athlete in Hawaii — but slower than 197 male student athletes.
Outdated guidelines suggest those differences can be compensated for by way of testosterone suppression. In fact, recent research shows quite the opposite.
Current guidelines wishfully suggest that male-to-female transgender athletes will not take accolades from female-sex athletes. Tell that to the Connecticut female-sex high school athletes who have given up 15 state titles to transgender opponents. Or to the Masters cyclists who keep losing the gold. Or to Doriane Coleman, a Duke University law professor, who recently testified before Congress that the year Sanya Richards Ross ran 48.7 seconds in the 400 meters to become the fastest woman in American history, thousands of males ages 16-33 could have beaten her.
Thousands. Yet it takes only three to knock female-sex athletes off the awards podium … and only eight to keep them off the track completely.
That’s why we need true compassion, not the artificial kindness of political correctness — and regulations that will clarify matters for everyone, including the male-to-female transgender athletes who right now don’t know if they’re eligible to compete or not. As long as the rules keep changing, they don’t know how they’ll be received by fans or competitors.
Male-to-female transgender athletes should be able to compete comfortably and happily — but please, not at the expense of a female-sex athletes who do not belong in the same category. We have worked so hard since Title IX for female equality in sports — too hard to allow male-sex athletes to enter the female divisions and win only because of their natural physical advantage.
Cynthia Monteleone is a Team USA 2019 world champion, a high school track-and-field head coach and the mother of a student athlete. She wrote this to observe National Women’s Sports Day, Feb. 5.