Transwoman swimmer’s victory in US sparks concerns among elite sport bodies

Dansk Atletik chair confesses he would feel weird if somebody like Lia Thomas triumphed in a top Danish sporting contest

Dansk Atletik chair Bent Jensen knows he is walking on eggshells when discussing the involvement of transgender people in elite sport.

It’s clear from his statements over the last 24 hours that he wholeheartedly supports their right to decide their own gender.

But he also knows that Dansk Atletik will be left with egg on its face if a transgender athlete like Lia Thomas, a transwoman swimmer with the obvious physique of a man, steps up and dominates a Danish women’s sporting event like she did over the weekend in the US. 

Clearly, he told DR, this is “a challenge and a serious problem”. 

IAAF president: Biggest loser is sport itself
The biggest loser, he says – echoing the fears of double Olympic champion Sebastian Coe, the British president of the IAFF world athletics federation – will be women’s sport.

“Women’s sports will be challenged if people who have been physiologically men two or three years ago can participate and have a part of male physics with them,” Jensen told DR.

“If it is opened up completely, there can be a lot at stake in women’s sports.”

As Coe told The Times: “If we do not do it right, the future of women’s sports is very vulnerable. It is difficult to avoid mixing emotions and subjectivity into the matter, so therefore it is important to stay close to science. We have always tried to do that when it becomes uncomfortable.”

Dansk Atletik chair: Situation like Lia Thomas would be “weird”
Personally, confesses Jensen, he would feel “weird if a transgender athlete won an elite-level athletics competition” in Denmark. In Lia Thomas’s case, she beat an Olympic silver medallist into second.

“I would be divided inside. There is only one element that stands in the way of the inclusion of transgender female athletes at the elite level, and that is fairness. That balancing act is difficult,” he added.

Jensen knows this is a tricky subject. “Because in its pure form, it is unfair if a person who has previously been a man participates in women’s sports,” he continued. 

“Where is the limit for when one can and cannot participate in a women’s field? It is difficult to figure out without the sufficient physiological knowledge.”

DIF: A matter for individual federations
The DIF, the Danish sports confederation that oversees all sports, earlier this year ruled that transgender athletes should be included in sport, but that there is a point where “competitive considerations” in women’s elite sports should be considered.

This, it said, is a matter for each individual sport’s federation to consider.

For example, it might not be as big an issue in sports in which physiology does not provide an advantage, like darts and snooker.

And the participation of trangender people in women’s amateur and youth sports will most likely be permitted.

Dansk Atletik: Time to set up a working group
Dansk Atletik has accordingly set up a working group to “dig into what thoughts and considerations” the association must assess.

“For example, it is different whether you go to school athletics or are trying to meet Olympic requirements,” said Jensen.

“We also need to look at the international set-up and see what is being done there. The higher up we get in elite level, the less we can define ourselves. However, we will have to wait for guidelines from the top shelf. Further down the system, we can come up with guidelines that are spacious and width-orientated, but we can not decide the Olympic requirements ourselves.”