MARTIN SAMUEL: It isn't fair for Thomas to compete in women's sport

MARTIN SAMUEL: It isn't fair for Thomas to compete in women's sport

March 21, 2022

MARTIN SAMUEL: The effects of going through male puberty mean it just isn’t fair that transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is allowed to compete in women’s events

  • Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas shouldn’t compete against women
  • The effects of male puberty mean that is simply isn’t a fair contest
  • It’s strange Thomas can’t put her own ambitions aside and consider what’s best for the sport 

Got a minute? Watch transgender swimmer Lia Thomas winning the 500-yard women’s freestyle at the NCAA Championships in Atlanta, in which she beat an Olympic silver medallist into third place.

Watch the smooth, constant, steady speed of her stroke, compared to the frantic, flaying of those trying to keep up with her. See that? Roughly four to six years of male puberty, right there.

Thomas did not perform as well after that. She finished fifth in the 200-yard freestyle, close to two seconds off her personal best. In the 100-yard event, her poorest distance, she came eighth, and was almost a second slower than in qualifying.


It isn’t fair that transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is allowed to compete in women’s sport 

The final two events caused even more raised eyebrows than the first. It is not uncommon for Thomas to rewrite the records and dominate the podium in women’s college events. Nobody expected her to then disappoint. Certainly without explanation.

And so it is that Thomas has become the dominant presence in women’s swimming this year. You won’t have heard of the Olympic medallist, Erica Sullivan, who she beat but you will be aware of the debate around fairness when transgender athletes, who were born male, come to dominate in women’s sports.

Thomas could potentially qualify for the US Olympic team for Paris in 2024.

US Swimming have already confirmed they will have no objection and, even if they did, who would voice it?

Most sporting bodies, and many observers, are terrified of being regarded as transphobic, when their strongest motivation should be establishing a level playing field. Thomas, a mediocre college swimmer when male, has been devastating in female events.

The effects of male puberty mean that is simply isn’t a fair contest when Thomas is involved

It’s strange Thomas can’t put her own ambitions aside and consider what’s best for the sport

In November 2021, she posted NCAA season-best times in the 200-yard freestyle and the 500-yard freestyle, set Penn State records in those events and won three individual races. In the 500 freestyle, she won by close on 13 seconds.

It isn’t fair, it isn’t right. The muscle memory achieved through male puberty remains hugely significant. Last year, the winner of the Under 17 boys 800m event at the England Athletics Championships, Jake Minshull, would have won gold in the women’s 800m at the Tokyo Olympics by 2.51sec from Athing Mu of the USA. To give some frame of reference, 0.67sec separates gold and silver in that race. That is testosterone in action.

The benefits of male puberty cannot be taken off like an outer coat. There is a reason why men’s events are deemed open and restrictions on testosterone levels have been historically placed on women’s sport. It is what separates us. Remove testosterone from our make-up and male and female could compete athletically without limitations, as happens in primary school.

Reka Gyorgy, who missed out on competing at the NCAA Championships by one place, wrote an open letter criticising the decision to allow Thomas (pictured) to be involved

What seems so strange is that a person such as Thomas, who identifies so strongly with women, cannot put her own ambitions to one side when considering what is best for women’s sport.

Reka Gyorgy, who missed out on competing at the NCAA Championships by one place, wrote an open letter. ‘I feel frustrated,’ she argued. ‘I can’t help but be angry or sad. Every event that a transgender athlete competed in was one spot taken away from biological females.’

Whether Thomas touches first or eighth, Gyorgy’s point stands. We protect women’s sport or deem its unique position an irrelevance.

‘I’m a woman, just like anybody else on the team,’ Thomas says, but we know that is not strictly true. Yes, Thomas has the right to be who she wants to be but women have rights too.




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