Collegiate and Olympic sports require men who want to participate in women’s sports because they identify as transgender to take one year of testosterone-suppressing drugs. New scientific evidence challenges whether that is enough to level the playing field and protect women.
The study, published in December in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that men retained a significant physical advantage over female athletes even after two years of taking feminizing and testosterone-suppressing drugs.
Researchers compared medical records and fitness tests from 29 females and 46 males enlisted in the Air Force from 2013 to 2018. Men who received transgender treatment completed a 1.5-mile run 12 percent faster than their female counterparts, according to the study. During the first of two years of treatment, they could do 10 percent more push-ups and 6 percent more sit-ups. After one year of feminizing hormones and testosterone-suppressing drugs, men retained an advantage over women in muscle mass, volume, and strength.
The study’s three authors said their findings challenge World Athletics’ and the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for transgender competitors. The two-year waiting period “may be too short if the aim is a level playing field,” said co-author Timothy Roberts, a pediatrician and the director of the adolescent medicine training program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
“We need longer-term studies of the effect of testosterone suppression on athletic performance overall and in sport-specific activities … to inform guidelines for transgender inclusion in sport,” Roberts said. He added that the study dealt with adults and not school-age athletes.
In recent years, a growing number of high school, collegiate, and elite female athletes have sounded the alarm about boys and men identifying as females and infiltrating their athletic teams, stripping them of titles and opportunities.
“Across the board, we need to be taking a look at what is happening in women’s sports,” said Christiana Holcomb, an attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom who represents female athletes. “We have policies allowing biological males to come in and dominate the female category.”
One example: June Eastwood, a male runner from the University of Montana who identifies as a female took first place in February 2020 in the women’s mile run at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships in Idaho. Eastwood, formerly a winning runner for the Montana men’s track team, beat his female competition by more than 3.5 seconds. The previous two years’ female winners clocked in at 5 and 13 seconds below Eastwood’s time.
Holcomb said studies continue to prove what female athletes already experience on the playing field. “Testosterone suppression is not a solution,” she said. “It will not ultimately restore fairness and a level playing field for female athletes.”
Four former and current high school runners in Connecticut filed a federal discrimination complaint in 2019 and a lawsuit in February 2020 against the state’s governing body for high school athletics. The suit demands the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference protect the runners’ rights to fair play under Title IX, a federal law that guarantees women equal opportunities in education.
At least 16 states permit high school students to participate in athletic teams based on their gender identity, according to TransAthlete.com. Boys who compete in girls sports at the high school level do not have to undergo hormone suppression. A group of U.S. Senate Republicans introduced a measure in September to clarify that schools and public universities violate Title IX and could lose federal funding if they allow men in women’s sports.
Idaho adopted a first-of-its-kind law protecting girl’s and women’s sports in March 2020, but a federal judge struck it down. ADF appealed the decision in September.