28 July 2022

Petrillo's stolen records: 'But I also won as a man'. Is this true? Here's the fact-checking

While the Olympic Committee announces a change in the guidelines on the participation of male bodies in women's sports, Valentina born Fabrizio Petrillo aspires to participate in the Paralympic Games in the women's category. To those who accuse her of wanting to win easily, she replies that she was winning even before the transition. But this is not the case: here is an analysis of Petrillo's times and how they are evaluated in the male and female categories respectively
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After the international federations of swimming, cycling and other sports, even the Olympic Committee is backtracking on the 'inclusion' of male bodies in women's sports.

Francesco Ricci Bitti at the head of ASOIF, the association that brings together the international federations of summer Olympic sports, announced at a recent conference the need to review the current rules on the participation of transgender athletes, mainly MtF, men who 'identify themselves as women'.

Francesco Ricci Bitti said: 'According to the human rights approach, 'transgender women' [MTF athletes] should live a normal life. This is absolutely true, but perhaps not in the world of elite professional sport'. He went on to emphasise that inclusion is a social value, so it should not be the first criterion to be followed in the composition of sports regulations: 'Eligibility rules regarding restrictions should be first and foremost based on science and designed to preserve fairness in top-level competitions. I believe that the latest guidelines are too evasive and therefore we must improve them or else we will lose [competitiveness] levels."(see here).

Meanwhile, in Italy MtoF athlete Valentina born Fabrizio Petrillo continues to reap victories in women's athletics (see here). Last month we reported on his participation -as a member of the Italian women's national team- at the World Para Athletics Grand Prix in Paris, an important test ahead of the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

And Valentina did not disappoint expectations, bringing home a gold in the 400 metres T13 and a new Italian women's record. A week later, in a competition in Grosseto on 17 June, she also set a new record in the 200 metres T13, improving a record she already held (here).

In short, When Petrillo runs, Italian records in the various distances of Paralympic women's running almost always have to be updated. Yet 'Valentina' In his interviews he has always denied any advantage due to being born a man.

Today we present an analysis of Petrillo's times in context, performed by statistician Marco Alciator. Alciator has compared Petrillo's times and records with those of international male and female athletes, also explaining the different evaluation of similar performances depending on whether the category is male or female.

The data clearly show a situation of absolute anomaly in the Petrillo case, with roughly the same times as when he competed as Fabrizio, moving up to the women's category also started winning in international competitions, a privilege granted only to male bodies that identify differently, but not to female bodies that identify as 'men'.


FACT-CHECKING: PETRILLO ON 400 METRES

Valentina Petrillo, born Fabrizio, visually impaired athlete Class of 1973, since January 2019 (age 45) she has been undergoing 'hormone therapy' and has been competing in women's races since 2020.

In a recent Fanpage interview stated about her results 'Valentina doesn't always win, unfortunately' and 'it is not necessarily the case that a former man has an advantage over a woman', he spoke of the titles he has already won in men's competitions and the records he holds, while a year ago on Rai1 had given as proof of fairness 'having lost 12 seconds in the 400 metres' and feeling absolutely equal to the athletes in the starting blocks.

To see more clearly, let us analyse the 'pre-transition' times and records in the men's 400 metre category and then the 'post-transition' times and records in the women's category.

Table 1 - Italian and world men's records in the outdoor 400 metres flat, absolute, masters M45 and paralympic T12/13.

Record 400m MElite - AbsoluteAge category -Master M45
Fidal
World Athletics
44"77
43"03
50"27
49"09
Fispes T12/T13
International Paralympic  
51" 96
46"70
  F.Petrillo 56"67 (2018)  

This first table shows how much Petrillo's personal best in the 400m was far from all men's records, both in comparison with the record of the M45 masters peers and with the Italian Paralympic low vision T12/T13 record, a time slower by more than 6 and 4 seconds respectively, equal to +12.7% and 9.1%, useful percentages for later comparisons.

Table 2 - Italian and world women's records in the outdoor 400 metres flat, absolute, masters F45 and paralympic T12/13.

Record 400m FElite - AbsoluteAge category -Master F45
Fidal
World Athletics
50"30
47"60
58"29
56"14
Fispes T12/T13
International Paralympic  
1'01"47*
54"46
  V.Petrillo 58"57** (2022)  

*previous record

**From early 2021 Petrillo runs in the T13 instead of T12 visually impaired category, the records are a single T12/T13 category for FISPES

The post-2020 personal best is only 3.4% slower than the previous record (about two seconds, not 12 seconds difference) and the Italian master's record F45 is only a few tenths of a second away (+0.5%) while the Paralympic record has been improved by about 3 seconds (-4.7%).

The strong anomaly of the two personal bests (2018 and 2022) is also corroborated by the quantitative evaluation awarded by Fidal score, the higher the score the more prestigious the performance, the leap is evident, from 476 points as Fabrizio to 815 points as Valentina. As a comparison, in the Fidal scoring tables a woman scores 476 points with a time of 1:08"31 (here yes 12 seconds more than 56").

I record rubati di Petrillo: “Ma vincevo anche da uomo”. È vero? Ecco i fact-checking
From Fabrizio to Valentina the performance slows down by about 2 seconds, however 'Valentina's' performance in the women's category is rated more points (source: Fidal).

A comparison of male and female records over the distance (Absolute, Master45, T12/13) gives an average difference between the sexes of 14.7% (range 10.6%-18.3%). Petrillo in the passage recorded advantages in all comparisons analysed (see the anomalous slope of the segment in the graph that brings it into the record 'bubble'), advantages of between 8.7 and 13.8 percentage points, with an average of 11.6 percentage points. (Percentage points means the difference between percentages, e.g. +10% to -5% gives an advantage of 15 percentage points).

I record rubati di Petrillo: “Ma vincevo anche da uomo”. È vero? Ecco i fact-checking
Graph - Comparison of men's and women's 400m, world, Italian, masters and Paralympic T12/13 records and Petrillo's 'pre-transition' and 'post-transition' personal bests

Based on the analysed times the physical advantage appears to be largely preserved and we cannot exclude that part of the slowdown is due to the age factor (44 to 48 years).

Regarding the national titles obtained 'pre-transition' the information is correct, there are about ten titles obtained in both outdoor and indoor championships between 2016 and 2018, on the 100, 200 and 400 metres, however they are only in the Fispes Paralympic sphere (T12) unlike later on with Fidal master national titles, therefore against athletes of the same age and able-bodied (master titles: Arezzo 2020, Rieti 2021, Ancona indoor 2022, etc).

When Petrillo states that he now holds 5 out of 6 Italian records in the T13 sprint races (200m-400m, indoor and outdoor, 60m indoor) he is telling the truth, but this is further evidence of the unfair advantage he has acquired because there are no 'pre-transition' records among men.

As a further point of comparison, Fabrizio Petrillo's 56"67 was more than six seconds slower than the last-place finisher in the 400m T13 final in Rio 2016 (see here), now as Valentina her 58"57 recorded in Imola on 23 June could be enough to qualify for the final in Paris 2024 when she will be 50 years old (in Tokyo 2020 the time for entering the final was 58"48, the average age of the eight finalists was 24, see here).

This transition from unimportant athlete to potential Olympic participant is reminiscent in several respects of the Will/Lia Thomas affair, with a slow 2.6% on the 200-yard freestyle went from 462nd place in the men's rankings to 1st in the women's (the men's and women's times here have a differential of approximately 12%, see here). Thanks to the new rules of FINA, the International Swimming Federation, Thomas is no longer eligible for women's competitions as category changes are no longer allowed after puberty/12 years of age, thus wisely shifting the criterion back to biological sex and not perceived gender identity.

"BUT THEY DON'T ALWAYS WIN"

Those who defend women's sport are countered by those who ensure that competition is regular because athletes who identify as transgender do not always win in women's competitions. This argument is misleading and easy to dismantleFor example, starting before the start given by the starter or using doping substances does not guarantee victory but is nevertheless prohibited because it represents an unfair advantage. Then there is also the risk - difficult to prove, but real - that an athlete wishing to conceal the advantage gained from the change of category may underperform.

If rules are built on the unscientific assumption of no advantage, the risk is to slide towards two categories, one dominated by the strongest (male) athletes, the other pitting modest athletes against the best female athletes.

Having ascertained at several levels that women's sport must remain women-only for the sake of fairness, a solution can be found so that everyone can participate in sport. One way forward, proposed by Linda Blade in her book 'Unsporting', is to provide two categories: a women-only category (XX) and an open men's category, in which male athletes who identify themselves as women can compete.

To the objection raised that transgender people would be uncomfortable in a category they do not feel is their own, it should be noted that in several cases female athletes who declare themselves to be transgender participate in the category of their biological sex without any problems (see here).

It is not possible to ignore scientific evidence any longer and pretend not to see the unfair advantage of the order of 10% in a sport where even a single hundredth of a second counts. A women's category must be guaranteed both to avoid taking away the credibility of sporting values and even more so not to deprive female athletes of opportunities, victories and prizes that are theirs and theirs alone.

Note to readers: Any reports of inaccuracies, missing data or the like are appreciated.

Marco Alciator


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