Expert opinion: Katharina Lindner is a former Glasgow City striker and lecturer in the Centre of Gender and Feminist Studies at the University of Stirling

Sport is peculiar in being one of the very few social spaces in which gender segregation is taken for granted: men’s and women’s events take place separately.

There are mechanisms to ensure that athletes compete in the ‘right’ category: various sex/gender verification tests are used to determine an athlete’s ‘real’ sex. Usually this is justified in relation to fairness of competition.

Problems occur when athletes don’t quite fit into the neat, binary gender categories that sport attempts to define and police.

Several recent cases have highlighted the impossibility of determining sex in any straightforward way. Whether we use reproductive organs, chromosomes or hormone levels as ‘indicators’ of sex, no clear definition obtains.

The cases of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand and Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley have shown that the measurements used to determine whether an athlete is ‘really’ a woman are arbitrary – sometimes they just don’t work.

The IOC has made important changes to its transgender policy in response to some of these issues. Transgender athletes will now be allowed to compete in the Olympics without having to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

Testosterone levels only are now used to determine eligibility to compete as a woman — though both sexes produce this hormone, so problems remain.

>>> ‘It’s ludicrous that there isn’t equal prize money for women in road cycling’

The case of cyclist Kristen Worley is particularly interesting: Worley is a transitioned woman. She is prohibited by UCI rules from taking the synthetic hormones she needs in order to avoid serious health complications, and so is effectively barred from competing. In response, she has filed a human rights complaint.

This is just one example of the ways in which the binary structure of sport doesn’t fully accommodate the ways in which sex and gender are embodied and lived.

There is no easy solution, but it’s up to sport to adapt and change.

  • Chris

    That is probably the most succinct answer to this and other aligned subjects, I have read. Well done sir!

  • Riggah

    “Centre of Gender and Feminist Studies at the University of Stirling”
    Can you imagine what a barrel of laughs it must be to work there? Spending their time and budget trying to justify their existence by seeking out ‘problems’ that aren’t really problems at all. (Have you noticed how feminists love to use the word ‘problem’ as often as possible?)

    “There is no easy solution” – and she’s not offering even one, “but it’s up to sport to adapt and change” – then she drops this grenade and walks away.
    All I get from the article is that the author is a meddling busybody who goes off half-cocked (oops!).

  • Chris

    Hur-bloody-ray. Sense at last!

  • Adam Beevers

    Why don’t we just forget the gender debate and sort everyone according to ftp / weight. Then you’ll have some pretty close racing. Maybe you’ll get some flirting in the peleton too!

  • Steve S

    I couldn’t agree more, this is politically correct garbage. I love both men and women’s sport and think they should both be paid and promoted equally, but apart from the initial laugh I’ve no wish to watch some knuckle dragger who has / had meat and two veg appear on the same event as women. Though someone will doubtlessly think they should be awarded for “bravery”.

  • Bakers Dozen

    Ibis sells a bike called the “Tranny” and has used it to poke “fun” at transgender people. Check out

  • Michael

    Femke van den driessche said on hearing the news “I now would like to identify as a woman with an attached motorbike engine and trust the UCI won’t discriminate against me in the upcoming Worlds…those of us in the LGBTE community need all the support we can get”

  • Ronin

    “There is no easy solution, but it’s up to sport to adapt and change.” No, it’s not. No one has a right to participate in world class sport. If admitting someone into competition unfairly disrupts the competition, as allowing men, or half-men?, former men?, to compete against women would, then they simply should not be allowed to compete.

    “The cases of South African middle-distance runner Caster Semenya, Indian sprinter Dutee Chand and Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley have shown that the measurements used to determine whether an athlete is ‘really’ a woman are arbitrary.” This is a nonsequitor. Difficulties for a test for X deciding in some unusual cases whether something has property X or not does not show that the test for X is arbitrary.

  • Derek Biggerstaff

    There won’t be many women winning their equal prize money when men are allowed to enter their races in the name of equality.

  • Rupert the Super Bear

    Can we name names? I know of two female riders who clearly aren’t women.

  • ummm…

    i here you. But, it effecting a miniscule group doesn’t mean it isn’t a conversation worth having – just possibly the return on investment to tackle the problem may not be seen as worth while by “the board”.

    I’m more interested in the realization that many times these conflicts are in relation to those applying for womens divisions. Why does this not happen in male divisions? What does this say about our relation to gender and gender in sport? Stating that some people are left out in the cold by their physiology does not then start to answer that question.

  • ummm…

    An informative article, whether I agree at all times or not. It does shine a light on a discussion that is interesting for all, and important for some. Is it at all notable that many of these cases involve athletes attempting to enter the womens divions? Does this happen for athletes attempting to enter the mens divisions? What does this say about our relation to sport? What does this say about our relation to gender?

  • wenchiana

    [not restricted to cycling]
    Historically in most sports what are now called the men’s divisions/series/whatever were open series. Women’s series were restricted to only women.
    In the beginning of sports there were no separate series for women. The very few women competed with men but of course were not really competitive.

    I don’t think sport need to adapt and change to the fringe needs of very few athletes. The ones who do not meet definition of a woman should only be allowed to compete in the men’s series. Sport can adapt by changing the name. Let’s call the men’s series an open or general series. Any one can take part in that. Sport don’t need to care about anyone’s gender identity. That only a private matter.

    Someone transitioned from a man to a woman would have unfair advantage in the women’s series. That advantage would be larger than someone who just has great genes for that particular sport.

  • Riggah

    “it’s up to sport to adapt and change.”
    It is ludicrous to suggest that a system that has worked pretty well for many decades for the overwhelming majority of people should “adapt and change” to accommodate the circumstances of a minute, tiny, infinitesimally small proportion of athletes.
    But I’d hardly expect the opinion of a lecturer at a Centre of Gender and Feminist Studies to be unbiased or even rational.