Is it fair? S4C’s Byd Eithafol explores the polarising debate around trans women in female sports ahead of 2024 Olympic Games.

5 July 2024

Much more research is needed to determine whether it's fair or not to allow trans women to compete in the women's category in sporting competitions, according to a leading scientist.

In an interview with the programme's presenter, Maxine Hughes, Dr Shane Heffernan, an expert on the physiology of elite athletes at Swansea University, says a bigger sample is needed to determine results, in current and future studies, and encourages more trans people to volunteer.

Dr Heffernan says much greater numbers of trans people are required to take part in the research, which, he claims, presents challenges as only a small proportion of the population chooses to change their gender.

In the programme Byd Eithafol: Chwarae Teg? (Extreme World: Fair Play?) journalist and former Welsh Judo champion Maxine Hughes investigates the difficult debate dominating the world of sport and asks whether trans women should be allowed to compete in female categories.

The programme will be shown on S4C on 7 July at 20:00 and will also be available on S4C Clic and BBC iPlayer.

At this month's Paris 2024 Olympic Games, for the first time in the games' history, there will be equal representation of male and female athletes.

However, the individual governing bodies for each sport still have the final say over whether to allow trans women to compete in each sport's female categories, prompting the call, by many of the people interviewed for this programme, for the IOC Olympic Committee to give greater leadership.

Non Evans has competed for Wales in several sports - wrestling, judo, rugby, weightlifting, touch rugby and boxing. She strongly believes that trans women should not compete in women's categories:

"I do have an issue with a man growing up with larger bones, higher levels of testosterone in the body, a larger heart, and everything else. It makes no difference to me if someone is transgender.

"I wouldn't have had the same success in my career competing in judo, wrestling, rugby, weightlifting had I competed against a person who has changed gender after 20 years."

"I wouldn't have had the same success in my career competing in judo, wrestling, rugby, weightlifting had I competed against a person who has changed gender after 20 years."

Meghan Cortez-Fields from the USA is a swimmer who is a trans woman. She competed in the men's team at college for three years before transitioning to a woman and started swimming for the women's team:

"A lot of people...at the forefront of this... cross that line where it comes to invalidating our identify. Claiming us to be these monsters".

"The level of uncomfortability for some of us....means taking our own life, and that needs to be understood....I guess the gravity of that needs to be valued."

There's no doubt that, behind the headlines, there are people who are affected by this complex and sensitive debate, which has driven a huge division into the world of sport.

But Dr Shane Heffernan is firmly of the opinion that further research and time will be able to determine if it is fair for trans women to compete in the same category as women:

"If you come back to me in ten years time and ask this question, we'll have ten years more knowledge that we'll be able to apply to trying to determine the correct policies."

Can’t find what you’re looking for?