New Study Bolsters Idea of Athletic Differences Between Men and Trans Women

A new study financed by the International Olympic Committee found that transgender female athletes showed greater handgrip strength — an indicator of overall muscle strength — but lower jumping ability, lung function and relative cardiovascular fitness compared with women whose gender was assigned female at birth.

That data, which also compared trans women with men, contradicted a broad claim often made by proponents of rules that bar transgender women from competing in women’s sports. It also led the study’s authors to caution against a rush to expand such policies, which already bar transgender athletes from a handful of Olympic sports.

The study’s most important finding, according to one of its authors, Yannis Pitsiladis, a member of the I.O.C.’s medical and scientific commission, was that, given physiological differences, “Trans women are not biological men.”

Alternately praised and criticized, the study added an intriguing data set to an unsettled and often politicized debate that may only grow louder with the Paris Olympics and a U.S. presidential election approaching.

The authors cautioned against the presumption of immutable and disproportionate advantages for transgender female athletes who compete in women’s sports, and they advised against “precautionary bans and sport eligibility exclusions” that were not based on sport-specific research.

Outright bans, though, continue to proliferate. Twenty-five U.S. states now have laws or regulations barring transgender athletes from competing in girls and women’s sports, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit that focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parity. And the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for smaller colleges, this month barred transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports unless their sex was assigned female at birth and they had not undergone hormone therapy.

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