Some 23 years on these basic premises have not changed, but the issue of transgender athletes has brought the issue back to center stage. The transgender debate has been an extremely polarizing issue in swimming, cycling, weightlifting and rugby union, but in a combat sport like boxing, it takes on a whole different hue.
That’s why Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the World Boxing Council, takes such an active stance on the issue. He is aware that the issue of fighting between men and women has been present for a long time. Katie Taylor, a true trailblazer, used to tie her long hair back and call herself K Taylor as a teenager so she could fight men due to a lack of female opponents, while Lucia Rijker – an undefeated boxer – was knocked out in a Muay Thai fight against a man in her native Holland in 1994.
Sulaiman never wants this to happen again. His stance is being welcomed by those in the sport, with Natasha Jonas, Liverpool’s light middleweight world champion, saying the WBC is “taking the leap, but in the right way”.
And Jonas knows what she’s talking about. In 2009 Jonas beat Patricio Manuel on points in a UK v USA international tournament at York Hall in Bethnal Green. Between 2005 and 2012, Manuel, of Indio, Calif., competed in 36 fights as a woman. In 2015, Manuel underwent gender reassignment surgery and has since boxed once as a man against a man. Under the WBC’s proposals, Manuel would only be eligible to box another woman who has become a man.
“It should be pretty clear. It’s unfair in a combat sport and it’s dangerous. I think it should be the same in any sport, but in combat sports it’s dangerous,” he said. added Jonas.
Equity and inclusion are not always possible
Prof Ross Tucker, a sports scientist and member of World Rugby’s Transgender Rules Committee, believes the question that needs to be asked is ‘why does women’s sport exist’ and the reason is that ‘we recognize that male physiology has biological differences that create performance advantages and women’s sports exist to ensure that male advantages are excluded.”
The key, he explained in an interview with Swimming World Magazine, is what the body has been exposed to, and if a male body has benefited from testosterone, then your body belongs in male sports.
“Has this body, this physiology been exposed and benefited in the sporting context from male hormones – yes or no? I’ve been exposed to testosterone all my life. My twin sister hasn’t. There are a lot of differences between us, but in terms of sports, the main biological difference is not that my testosterone is higher today, it’s that my testosterone has been higher all my life. It is the work done by this hormone over many years that makes the difference.
He added: “If your answer is yes, then that body belongs to men’s sport. With gender identity, we want to adapt as much as possible, but we can’t remove that difference. That’s where we create this collision of rights between women and trans women.”
In other words, equity and inclusion are not always possible.
But what the WBC are doing doesn’t blur the lines. As Jonas told Telegraph Sport: “It makes sense. What’s acceptable? It’s such a gray area. It’s dangerous anyway. If you were born female, you shouldn’t not fight a male, and if a male transitioning to a female fights a born female, there are definitely physiological disadvantages for the female.If you’ve gone through puberty, either male-to-female or female-to-male, it is clear that what should be fair.
“It’s such a hot topic. I, as a boxer, have no problem with transgender boxing, but if you’ve become a woman, you can’t compete as a woman. You can’t compete against me. It’s as simple as that. That’s what the WBC is doing. They’re taking the leap and being the first to do it. What the reaction will be and how it will be received and what will happen, we don’t know. don’t know yet. Or the level of competition it will come to. I’m all for people who play sports – but fairly.”
Sulaiman came to the same conclusion, which is why he’s trying to make sure boxing is at the forefront of the trans debate.