What if there were no categories or divisions in sports? What if men and women competed against each other? 20-somethings against 40-somethings? Heck, 12 year olds competed with 80 year olds.
It’s widely acknowledged that men, usually between ages 20-30, dominate most sports. Look at the results of the last few CrossFit Games and you’ll notice this belief holds true to CrossFit as well. This isn’t to minimize the abilities of anyone outside this group. Heck, I’ve worked out with Sam Briggs and she whipped my butt every time. But, truth be told, if she competed with the men at the CrossFit Games, she’d likely come in dead last. This is the reality. Testosterone is a clear advantage men possess over women (and older men). Hence, why men and women compete in different divisions.
In essence, sport is nothing if it isn’t competitive. This is why athletes are also divided by age groups. However, one could argue that these categories are somewhat arbitrary. If you’ve been around the sport of CrossFit long enough, you’ve heard the argument that athletes should be further broken down by weight and that 35-39 year olds should have their own age bracket. Both arguments are backed by a good amount of evidence that these individuals, as a group, are at some disadvantage.
The Games belong to CrossFit Inc, so CrossFit Inc sets the rules. That being said, CrossFit currently categorizes athletes by gender and 5 year age brackets starting with ages 40-44 and ending with the 60+ group. Find the group you belong to and the general consensus is that the competition will be fair.
So, what if you and the governing body (CrossFit Inc) disagree on the division you belong. This is the case with transgender athlete Chloie Jonsson. Jonsson has filed a $2.5 million against CrossFit for violating her civil rights. According to the lawsuit, CrossFit refuses to allow Jonsson to compete in the women’s division of the CrossFit Games Open despite the fact that she had gender reassignment surgery in 2006 and is legally recognized as a woman by the state of California.
Jonsson has been doing CrossFit for just over 3 years and has competed in local competitions.
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CrossFit’s fundamental argument is that Chloie Jonsson was born a man and therefore possesses a genetic advantage over the women she hopes to compete against.
CrossFit’s lawyers state that they are simply protecting the competition. According to CrossFit, athletes must compete in the gender of their birth.
CrossFit isn’t the first sport to have to address the issue of categorizing transgender athletes. The existence of transgender athletes has and continues to complicate the question of fairness and who belongs where.
In 2004 the International Olympic Committee ruled that a transgender athlete must first complete sex reassignment surgery followed by two years of testosterone suppression therapy (for an athlete going from male to female) or testosterone supplementation (for an athlete going from female to male). In 2009, the NCAA ruled that athletes need only one year of testosterone suppression to compete against women. In essence, the NCAA ruled that even with the genitalia of a man, if a trans female suppresses her genetically advantageous testosterone levels, she may compete against other females because it is…fair.
Recently, Fallon Fox made headlines as the first transgender athlete in MMA. Born a man, Fox now fights women as a career. You can imagine the controversy here. After losing her first fight Fox said that “I guess people will realize that I’m just a woman after all.”
So, is this really fair? Is one year of testosterone suppression therapy enough to level the playing field between a man and a woman?
Joanna Harper, a masters track athlete, attempted to answer this question after she began hormone suppression therapy to transition to a female. After less than a year of hormone suppression therapy, Harper noted that she was “substantially slower after the transition, and (has) age graded performances which have stayed relatively constant in both genders. For those who don’t know, age grading is a method of comparing track and field results for athletes of all ages and both genders”.
Basically, after hormone suppression therapy, Joanna Harper has remained as competitive as a female as she was as a male.
This is by no means scientific evidence. Joanna Harper and other trans female athletes must still account for the years before testosterone suppression therapy that testosterone flowed freely in their bodies which allowed for, at minimum, a larger sized individual. One cannot argue that larger hands in MMA or CrossFit don’t contribute some advantage.
So, should CrossFit allow Chloie Jonsson to compete as a female? Does she posses an advantage over the women she hopes to compete against? In time the court will sound off on the question.
Photo courtesy of facebook.com/CoachChlo