Tom Daley should not wade into swimming's trans row

27 June 2022

7:07 PM

27 June 2022

7:07 PM

Swimming’s governing body, Fina, made a wise and sensible decision last week. It declared that transwomen were ineligible to take part in elite female competitions if they have experienced any part of male puberty. There were caveats, but it was a huge stride in the right direction. It was a ruling that was fair to female swimmers. But not everyone is happy.

Diving gold medalist Tom Daley is ‘furious’. Speaking at last night’s British LGBT Awards, Daley said:

You know, like most queer people, anyone that’s told that they can’t compete or can’t do something they love just because of who they are, it’s not on. It’s something I feel really strongly about. Giving trans people the chance to share their side.’

Daley can direct his emotions wherever he likes, but his leap of logic has more twists and turns than he manages from the ten-metre diving board.

Let’s be clear, nobody – not Fina, nor anyone else – has said that trans people cannot compete in sport. Sport is for all, and that includes transgender athletes. Fina simply ruled that transwomen like me should not compete with women. Their reasoning for this was clear:

‘Biological sex is a key determinant of athletic performance, with males outperforming females in sports (including Aquatics sports) that are primarily determined by neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory function, and anthropometrics including body and limb size.’

For Daley, and anyone else struggling to keep up, biological sex divides transwomen from women in exactly the same way as it divides men from women. Indeed, if we allow transwomen to compete with women then why not open up female competition to any male who wants to show their side by taking on less challenging competition?

Because, whatever Daley may think, there is no sufficiently adequate qualifying criterion to be a transwoman. And, despite self-identifying as a ‘queer’ person, Daley should have no special privilege to start making pronouncements.

Reality matters. I am male, just as Daley is male, and we have our own category in sport: one for people with male biology. It is unfair for any of us to impose ourselves in the category for those with female biology. Let’s leave female sport to female people, and listen to someone who has faced unfairness in sport in a way that Daley can only read about. Sharron Davies lost out on Olympic gold when her East German competitors had been subjected to a state-sponsored doping programme.

Last week, Davies had this to say about Fina’s decision:

‘I can’t tell you how proud I am of my sport … for doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females. Swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify but fairness is the cornerstone of sport.’

Perhaps Daley is unaware, but inclusion does matter to Fina. ‘Male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) remain eligible for, and are welcome to compete in, the men’s category whether or not they are suppressing their endogenous androgenism,’ it said.

Quite right! If Daley wants to be a more useful trans-ally he could help us by campaigning for separate changing facilities and perhaps specific record-keeping. Why can’t the governing bodies keep note of the best times for transwomen who have suppressed our testosterone? It’s not rocket science. But it would require a complete change of thinking among the likes of Daley. We don’t compete with our feelings; we compete with our bodies, and those bodies have a sex.

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