When questions arise about the fairness of trans-identified male athletes competing with women, the usual reply is that their performance has deteriorated since their ‘gender transition’.
Considering the fact that sports competitions are divided by sex, namely the sexual difference of men’s and women’s bodies, and not on performance parameters, is it true that lowered testosterone levels would worsen the results of male athletes who say they ‘feel like women’?
The IOC‘s decision to admit these men to women’s competitions has provided a range of data, from physical (see this study published in Sports Medicine) to technical.
We present a study by the statistical-demographic researcher Marco Alciator, conducted on the results of the athlete Petrillo before and after the ‘transition’ and the consequent change of category from male to female.
The Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (faster, higher, stronger) is turning into a nightmare for female athletes who, with the inclusion of trans-identified male competitors, may increasingly see it applied as ‘too fast, too high and too strong’.
This refers to the possibility for men who say they “feel like women” to compete in women’s sports (and vice versa, in theory) if they meet the guidelines of the International Olympic Committee, according to which it is enough to make a “self-declaration of gender” that cannot be changed for 4 years and have a testosterone level below 10 nanomoles per litre (5 nmol/L for athletics) in the previous 12 months.
Although this is thought to ensure fair competition between male and female athletes, it doesn’t . The inequity remains and is actually highlighted – in physicality, strength and speed men continue to have an important advantage.
ITALY – ANALYSIS OF PETRILLO’S PERFORMANCES IN THE 200 AND 400 METRES FLAT
In Italy, Fidal (Italian Athletics Federation) and Fispes (Italian Paralympic and Experimental Sports Federation) have implemented the IOC guidelines, allowing Fabrizio Petrillo to move into the female category as Valentina, having lowered his testosterone to the required level.
Petrillo is visually impaired due to Stargardt’s disease, and competes in both able-bodied and Paralympic events, formerly T12 then T13. It is in this capacity that he could participate in the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Below we look at Petrillo’s sporting history, starting with the results of the races taken from the Fidal website (not Fispes). (Fabrizio Petrillo here, Valentina Petrillo here).
Comparing Fabrizio Petrillo’s seasonal best times in the 200 metres with those of the master champions in his age category, the delay is 3″12 hundredths in 2016, 2″49 hundredths in 2017 and 1″83 hundredths in 2018.
As a result of lowered testosterone levels, Valentina Petrillo managed to run 51 hundredths faster than Cristina Sanulli on the track in 2020 (see graph 1).
Graph 1 – Comparisons between Petrillo’s seasonal best performances on the 200 metres and the time of the master champions of his age category (e.g. SM40 male athletes between 40 and 44 years old, SF45 female athletes between 45 and 49 years old) – years 2016-2020
In chronometric terms in the period 2016-2018, Petrillo records times with an average of about 25”50, and only in regional level races. In the period 2020-2021 his average becomes about 27″. In this distance and category the difference in times between leading athletes and female athletes is about 3″30 seconds (23″30 vs 26″80), so if Petrillo had worsened his average performance by one and a half seconds he would still have kept an advantage of about two seconds in the transition from the male to female category.
Similarly we look at the times provided by Fidal on the 400 metres. In 2017, the gap between Petrillo’s best time and the men’s masters champion is 7 seconds, while in 2020, when compared with the masters champion, the gap is reduced to 1″50 cents. (see graph 2). Also in the chronometric comparison the average of his 2021 times compared to the 2017 post-hormone therapy times is about 2 seconds slower (59″74 to 1’02″12) and his last lap performance in May 2021 is just over a minute (1’00″31). On the basis of the available and analysed data, there is no evidence for the following statement by the athlete: ‘I have lost 12 seconds compared to when I was running against men and without the testosterone constraints. However, I prefer to be a slower woman running the 400 metres, but happy, than to be a faster but sad man’.
Graph 2 – Comparisons between Petrillo’s seasonal best performances on the 400 metres and the time of the master champions of his age category (e.g. SM40 male athletes between 40 and 44 years old, SF45 female athletes between 45 and 49 years old) – years 2017-2020. (Note: Petrillo’s best time in 2021 due to no time in 2020)
For this distance and in this category the difference in times between the leading athletes is about 8-10 seconds, if as it seems the slowdown of the athlete Petrillo was about two seconds he would still have an advantage of 6-8 seconds in the transition from male to female category.
At the Master’s Athletics Championships in Arezzo in October 2020, Valentina Petrillo beat Cristina Sanulli and Denise Neumann, both of whom had won world and European Masters titles. The two female athletes went to the podium to avoid controversy, but later stated that they felt they had not competed on an equal footing. After this and thanks to the support of the lawyer Fausta Quilleri, Sanulli, Neumann and twenty other female athletes signed a petition that male-born athletes not be admitted to women’s competitions, which was sent to the president of the Italian Athletics Federation, Stefano Mei, the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Elena Bonetti, and the undersecretary of state for sport, Valentina Vezzali. At the time of writing this, none of these authorities has yet replied.
The news of Petrillo’s victory at Arezzo was widely reported in the sports press (and elsewhere) in enthusiastic terms such as ‘women’s rights and trans people’s rights’, ‘a better way forward’, ‘Italian hope for the Paralympics in Tokyo’, ‘the fight for recognition and non-discrimination of transgender people can now mark a historic victory’, and so on.
The story was also presented on Rai1 in the afternoon programme ItaliaSì[U1] , and Petrillo was congratulated for his results. The writing on the overlay read: Valentina Petrillo: ‘I was a man. But don’t protest’. The emphasis of the headlines in the newspapers, the celebrations on social media, a forthcoming book and film are really out of line. It is not acceptable that public television sends the message to the athletes that they cannot protest about the lack of fairness of the competition criteria, with the concrete prospect of victories and podiums that will be unjustly lost. These female athletes train every day, have been at levels of excellence for years, and are trying, despite the difficulty, to make their voices heard.
Women athletes cannot protest, women cannot protest.
It would be better if female athletes could follow the advice of Maya Forstater, researcher and women’s rights advocate , who said: “Be braver today than you were yesterday”. In this context it means that tomorrow they can compete stronger, higher and faster than ever before. And in fairness.
Article in Italian here published on June 19th.
Translated by Tania Alessandrini