‘Men with low testosterone could compete with women’ – Russian Olympic legend weighs in on transgender row

Russian Olympic gold medalist Tatyana Lebedeva says debates over transgender athletes and testosterone levels in female competitors are not going away anytime soon, urging more research from scientists to ensure fair competition.

The issue of transgender competitors was among the significant talking points at the recent Tokyo Games, where New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard competed in the women’s weightlifting.

Hubbard, 43, transitioned from male to female in 2012 having starter her sporting career as a man.

Hubbard competed at the Games in Tokyo. © Reuters

“Many people watched weightlifting at the Olympics just for Hubbard’s sake, many people wanted to take a picture with her,” said 2004 long-jump gold medalist Lebedeva in an interview with Sport-Express.

“She didn’t even record a successful lift, but at the same time she became a star even before the start.

“Is it right or not? I won’t say anything for sure, again, we need research, it is necessary to involve scientists.

“The fact is that there are people like this, and we cannot deny their existence.”

Lebedeva was a legend during her days on the track. © AFP

Lebedeva, a three-time Olympic medalist who retired in 2012, discussed the situation surrounding testosterone levels in female athletes, saying that the debate was a complex one.

“If we take, for example, the participation of men with testosterone of 10 nmol/liter in women’s competitions, then some [male] athletes in the Russian national team would be able to compete with women,” said the former world record holder. 

“You just need to declare that now you’re a woman and maintain a certain level of testosterone.”

Lebedeva, 45, pointed to the situation surrounding South African middle-distance star Caster Semenya, who was barred from the Tokyo Games due to elevated testosterone levels.

“Semenya, for example, missed the Olympics. At the same time, a girl from Namibia, Christine Mboma, switched from the 400 meters to 200 meters in a month [because of testosterone restrictions] and immediately won an Olympic medal.

“Then what’s the point of the restrictions? Previously, scientists argued that testosterone doesn’t affect results at 100 and 200 meters, allegedly it only affects power.

“True, the sprint is power in its purest form, endurance isn’t needed. I think there will be new studies now.

“These are delicate questions and ethical considerations have to be taken into account. For example, this is very important when solving the problem of transgender people in sports.”

Lebedeva, who took up a career in politics after hanging up her spikes, suggested that increased testosterone levels could simply be treated as a physical benefit along the same lines as height or power – although adding that categorization could also be a solution.  

“There’s no discussion whether it’s a woman or a man. She may be a full-fledged woman, but she will have a gene abnormality due to which extra testosterone is produced,” said Lebedeva. 

“To some extent, this can be viewed as a talent, a reward from heaven. This doesn’t make her a man.

“One of the options for solving the problem is to introduce a separate category. We created many different categories at the Paralympics, you can introduce a similar classification for intersex people. There aren’t many of them, but they are there.”

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently delayed its new guidelines on transgender athletes, citing “very conflicting opinions” on the issue.

The new guidelines are not set to be published until after the Beijing Winter Olympics in February – three years later than originally planned.

Current IOC guidelines suggest that trans women can compete in women’s categories if they reduce their testosterone levels to a required amount for 12 months, although individual federations across sports are permitted to create their own rules.

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