Sports are an important part of life for many people, including many transgender people.
For all children, including gender diverse and transgender children, participating in sports can help psychosocial development by teaching important life skills like discipline, respect, persistence, dedication, and patience. Sports can improve a child’s health, mood, and self-esteem. All children deserve to experience those things.
Youth and adolescents
As more and more youth and adolescents make a gender transition, some people have expressed concern about transgender athletes in competitive sports. This is especially true in sex-segregated sports, where some people question if it is fair for transgender athletes to compete with non-transgender athletes. This concern most often arises around transgender women and girls participating in a sport with non-transgender women and girls.
That concern is sometimes heightened by the level of competition and what can be won. For instance, earning a ribbon or trophy is valuable, but winning a local, state, regional, national, or international competition can lead to other opportunities and sometimes has financial value. Notable adolescent athletes who are transgender include:
- Mack Beggs, wrestling
- Terry Miller, track
- Andraya Yearwood, track
Balancing fairness with inclusion is very complicated, and every athletic organization all the way up to the Olympics wants to find the best path forward.
In 2021, a number of US state legislatures considered laws around trans minors participating in sex-segregated sports. The Human Rights Campaign put together this profile of Rebekah, a student-athlete affected by these laws.
Transgender adults participate in sports at all levels of ability, from casual participant to professional athlete.
Did not compete after gender transition
A number of transgender people were noted athletes before transition, but they did not compete in their sports after making a gender transition. They include:
- Balian Buschbaum, track and field
- Roberta Cowell, motorsports
- Michelle Duff, motorcycle racing
- Ellia Green, rugby
- Caitlyn Jenner, track and field
- Andreas Krieger, track and field
- Janae Kroc, powerlifting
- Bobbi Lancaster, golf
- Erik Schinegger, skiing
- Gabbi Tuft, professional wrestling
- Mark Weston, track and field
Competed after gender transition
- Tifanny Abreu, volleyball
- Kye Allums, basketball
- Alessia Almeri, volleyball
- Chloe Anderson, volleyball
- Mianne Bagger, golf
- Schuyler Bailar, swimming
- Harrison Browne, ice hockey
- Savannah Burton, dodgeball
- Balian Buschbaum, track and field
- Parinya Charoenphol, Thai boxing
- Roberta Cowell, motor sports
- Willy De Bruijn, cycling
- Michelle Dumaresq, downhill mountain biking
- Fallon Fox, mixed martial arts
- Amelia Gapin, running
- Keelin Godsey, track and field
- Iszac Henig, swimming
- Laurel Hubbard, weightlifting
- Lauren Jeska, fell running
- Zdeněk Koubek, track
- Andreas Krieger, shot put
- Bobbi Lancaster, golf
- Lana Lawless, golf
- Patricio Manuel, boxing
- Danielle McGahey, cricket
- Cate McGregor, cricket
- Rachel McKinnon/Veronica Ivy, cycling
- Chris Mosier, triathlon
- Hannah Mouncey, handball and Australian football
- Renée Richards, tennis
- Stevie Romer, running
- Jaiyah Saelua, soccer
- Erin Taylor, running
- CeCé Telfer, track
- Lia Thomas, swimming
- Natalie van Gogh, cycling
- Mark Weston, athletics
- Chelsea Wolfe, BMX
Eligibility and fairness concerns
As with transgender youth and adolescents, most concern involves adult transgender women participating in competitive sex-segregated sports. Discussions about this go all the way back to the 1936 Olympics, and the International Olympic Committee has issued many revised regulations on sex testing and physiological thresholds for sex categories.
In the 20th century, some organizations required physical examinations of athletes’ naked bodies. Several track and field athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:
- Stanisława Walasiewicz (Poland)
- Dora Ratjen (Germany)
- Zdeňka Koubková (Czechoslovakia)
- Foekje Dillema (The Netherlands)
- Mary Edith Louise Weston (England)
Some organizations later required chromosome testing. Several athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:
- Ewa Kłobukowska (Poland)
- Renée Richards (United States)
- Erika Schinegger (Austria)
- Maria José Martínez-Patiño (Spain)
- Santhi Soundarajan (India)
Later, some organizations began hormone testing. Some created policies for women with “hyperandrogenism,” an unusually high level of naturally-produced androgen like testosterone. Several athletes had their eligibility challenged based on these exams:
- Dutee Chand (India)
- Beatrice Masilingi (Namibia)
- Christine Mboma (Namibia)
- Caster Semenya (South Africa)
Many of the cases above led to long legal fights. In some cases, the athletes were found to have differences of sex development. In some cases, they later made a gender transition and identified as men. Some won their cases, and others lost.
The future of sex segregation
Most of these discussions center on physical competitive advantages, but in 2023 The International Chess Federation (FIDE) unveiled a controversial policy claiming that sex-segregated chess is needed because cisgender women are mentally disadvantaged. For many, this policy exposed larger questions about any kind of segregation, including sex segregation:
- Do sex-segregated competitive sports perpetuate inequality and help keep women and girls in a subordinate social role?
- Are many sports popular specifically because they help keep women and girls in a subordinate social role?
- Is it fair to force competitors with “natural advantages” like high testosterone to alter their bodies in order to compete as women and girls?
Current debates about sex-segregated competitive sport eclipse these larger ethical issues. Some people argue that sex segregation in general, and sex-segregated competitive sports in particular, reinforce sexism and are thus antithetical to human progress. Most of the world is not ready to consider the ethical problems of either sex-segregated sport or competitive sport.
Each amateur and professional competitive sport has its own governing body, so there’s no general rule about how this is handled in sex-segregated sport. The resources below have additional information on this complex topic.
- Created by Chris Mosier, this site compiles policies and resources related to participation in sports by transgender athletes.
- GLSEN advocates for LGBTQ issues in American K-12 education. They published a resource titled Gender Affirming and Inclusive Athletics Participation
National Collegiate Athletic Association (ncaa.com)
- The NCAA governs college sports in the United States. They published a 2011 resource titled “Inclusion of Transgender Student-Athletes.” https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/Transgender_Handbook_2011_Final.pdf
- Current resources can be found at: ncaapublications.com
Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (cces.ca)
- Founded in 2003, in 2021 CCES published Transgender Women Athletes and Elite Sport: A Scientific Review
World Athletics (worldathletics.org)
- Formerly called International Association of Athletic Federations (iaaf.org) [archive]
- 2018 Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development)
International Olympic Committee (olympic.org)
- 2015 IOC Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism (PDF)
Veronica Ivy (drveronicaivy.com) [archive]
- Transgender athlete formerly known as Rachel McKinnon (rachelmckinnon.com) [archive]
- Appears in the media and publishes on the topic. Active 2012-2020.
- Twitter: @SportIsARight Active 2010 until suspended. Run by transphobes since 2023