[CUCBC Captains] Testosterone requirements for transgender female rowers

Francis Treherne Pollock fht22 at cam.ac.uk
Wed Oct 20 08:02:24 BST 2021

This is the email I wrote to the committee. It represents my views on the topic. I hope if can provide a good start to a proposed rule change.

I think this is important. Sorry it's so last minute.

If possible, This evening at the GAC I’d like to argue that enforcing a testosterone cap on trans-women rowers does not indicate fairness and worse excludes and discourages trans-women to compete.

My main source is: Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage
A review on various papers on the topic. I welcome people to read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions.

In an update. EH and TL have given talks and engaged in the mainstream media and academic press regarding the biology of sex and how they have concluded that this should impact sporting categories. (All dissemination or engagement, irrespective of the medium, has been guided by their education, disciplinary training, and research findings. The authors assert that this does not constitute a conflict of interest. Rather, it is an essential part of their academic freedom and their obligation to engage, publicly, in such discussions.)

This issue is difficult to talk about, a study of a few female olympians found that most  “didn’t feel like they could speak freely on the topic without being accused of transphobia”. I’m not sure how to deal with that, and as a cis-man I am aware I am completely on the outside, and am unaffected by what I am arguing to change.

The paper finds that testosterone reduction has a very small effect on the strength of trans-female athletes. It doesn’t come close to equalising the playing field.

There is a lack of studies to show how testosterone reduction affects endurance. Haemoglobin levels in trans-women (which affect oxygen carrying capacity) have been shown to be reduced to cis female levels.

“However, haemoglobin mass is not the only parameter contributing to VO2max, where central factors such as total blood volume, heart size and contractility, and peripheral factors such as capillary supply and mitochondrial content also plays a role in the final oxygen uptake” some of which could never be affected by reducing testosterone levels.

To conclude, testosterone reduction has little affect on strength and might have an affect on endurance. I’d like to suggest that testosterone levels in transgender female athletes are therefore a poor indicator of fairness in rowing.

At this point it becomes a debate about fairness verses inclusion. At the olympic/ national level, British Rowing have chosen to use testosterone levels as an indicator of fairness. It is not perfect but it is tangible and testable.

But this isn’t an olympic/ national level, this isn’t university level, this college sport. Granted rowing is probably the most competitive college sport.

Tokyo 8+ gold medal times:
Men 5:24 Women 5:59 = men exactly 10% faster - not much compared to other sports
so in theory one trans women in a women's 8 should be 1.25% faster - pretty small

I don’t have the data at a college level. Looking at average 2k times might also put things into perspective.

The proposed rules have tried to make the process as easy as possible, but it remains a hard line and a barrier to entry for some.

I would argue that inclusivity in a college sport should be valued highly. And letting people take part where they feel most comfortable should be a part of that.

To conclude I am suggesting that testosterone levels which are a poor indicator of fairness should not be used as a barrier to transgender females competing with cis women.


Francis Treherne Pollock
LMBC Men’s Co-Captain
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.cucbc.org/pipermail/captains_lists.cucbc.org/attachments/20211020/108687fe/attachment.html>

More information about the Captains mailing list