Trans athletes should be able to compete in gender they identify with: centre for ethics in sport

While many sports vary on how they welcome trans athletes, guidelines developed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport suggest organizations allow athletes to participate according to the gender with which they identify.

No evidence testosterone levels are a reliable predictor of competitive advantage

Katalina Murrie competed for the first time in the women's paddling category at the Canadian Canoe Kayak Whitewater Championships in Ottawa last weekend. (Adrian Harewood/CBC News)

Katalina Murrie came in last in her heat at the Whitewater National Championships last weekend, but the transgender athlete was simply happy to be able to compete with other female athletes and inspire other trans athletes.

She's not the only one who has been fighting stereotypes to compete in the gender in which she identifies.

Sports organizations across Canada have been scrambling to develop policies on trans athletes and many are taking cues from guidelines developed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

While many sports vary on how they welcome trans athletes, "the guidelines suggest that sport organizations allow individuals to participate in sport in the gender in which they identify," the guideline's co-author Jennifer Birch-Jones told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

No evidence testosterone predicts competitive advantage

That's because the centre's research found there was no evidence that testosterone was a "consistent and reliable predictor of competitive advantage," she said. And the science doesn't support requiring an athlete to take hormone suppressants.

The centre suggests following those guidelines even if an athlete isn't yet eligible to compete internationally. 

The International Olympic Committee mandates that male transgender athletes can compete without any restrictions, however, trans women must have identified as female for at least four years and must have a testosterone level below a certain level for at least a year before her first competition.

Even though there's a 10 to 12 per cent performance advantage between men and women in various sports, that gap is closing, said Birch-Jones.

Bigger difference within a gender than between

What the science does show, she said, is a greater variation within a gender than between genders and any advantage an athlete has depends more on genetics.

Birch-Jones said no one questions when a woman who is five foot four inches competes against someone who is six foot two, until that woman is transgender; that's when questions about competitive fairness are voiced.

But that person could just be an exceptional athlete, which isn't tied to his or her gender, she said.

"There's lots of trans athletes … who just want to play their sport," she said.