British Rowing Clashes On Whether To Allow Trans Athletes In Women’s Events

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British Rowing has asked its 31,500 members to vote on their preferred trans policy.

The debate began this week after The Telegraph revealed one of the Cambridge 2015 reserve rowing crew was biologically male.

Sarah Gibson, a transgender athlete, took the position on the team in the same year females were given equal billing to men. As a result, a biological female missed out on the chance to compete.

Event organizers were aware of Gibson’s background and decided to hide it. They chose not to display the schools the team members had attended because Gibson’s was an elite all boys school.

British rowing athlete Sarah Gibson — a biological male competing on Cambridge University Women’s crew — trains during an erg session. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Gibson now identifies as non-binary. But he is billed as the first openly trans person to compete in the race’s 187-year history.

“I wanted to take part in the Boat Race since I was a small kid and I was delighted when I got the chance,” Gibson said. “I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy it or reach my full potential without such an inclusive environment.”

In other words, Gibson couldn’t cut it on the men’s side, so he joined the women’s team to excel.

An adviser from the sport’s governing body said umpires at women’s rowing regattas may not question the gender of junior competitors.

British Rowing Polls Members on Trans Policy

The poll, sent via Google Forms, contains three options:

  1. Continue to allow trans and non-binary athletes to participate in women’s competition.
  2. Adopt World Rowing’s updated criteria, which allows trans athletes to compete subject to their testosterone levels.
  3. Allow only those “assigned female at birth” to compete in women’s events.

And while the results of that survey aren’t yet in, veteran coaches are speaking out.

Jane Sullivan, who was the Head of Rowing at the Royal Grammar School Worcester, has called for a transgender ban from female events.

“It just it seems so obvious to me sitting here as a rower and a coach that I almost think, ‘Well, why can’t you see this?'” Sullivan said. “It is so obvious that men have a physiological advantage over women and that we have the sports categories for a reason.”

Members of British Rowing will decide if trans athletes may continue to participate in women’s events. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

Sullivan believes British Rowing should take World Athletics’ approach and ban all transgender athletes from participating the women’s category.

In March, World Athletics President Sebastian Coe said the international track and field governing body made the move in order to “prioritize fairness and the integrity of the female competition before inclusion.”

Sullivan said rowing should follow suit because “It’s the only fair way, really.”

The decision of the British Rowing poll will affect all rowing events in Britain, including next month’s prestigious Henley Women’s Regatta.

Written by Amber Harding

Amber is a Midwestern transplant living in Murfreesboro, TN. She spends most of her time taking pictures of her dog, explaining why real-life situations are exactly like "this one time on South Park," and being disappointed by the Tennessee Volunteers.

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  1. There should not even be an option 1: Continue to allow trans and non-binary athletes to participate in women’s competition
    There is no reason why men should be allowed to compete against women.

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