Fairfax and the ABC both republish a bizarre article, “Why it might be time to eradicate sex segregation in sports”, by New Zealand sociologist Roslyn Kerr originally appearing at The Conversation. Kerr falls flat on her face coming out of the gate:

In many areas, gender equality has been improving gradually. But this is not the case in sport, where women continue to be banned for being insufficiently feminine to be permitted to compete.

There are indeed several examples of persons being deemed ineligible to compete as women but these individuals were not banned and can choose to compete against other non-women. This seems fair enough considering that all humans start off as females and differentiate from there.

Kerr continues:

In our research we argue that one way to move beyond problematic gender barriers is to eradicate sex segregation completely and replace it with a system similar to that used in Paralympic sport.

Historically, women have been required to undergo humiliating sex testing procedures in order to compete in sport. More recently, such testing has been suspended owing to the lack of consensus about which traits make someone male or female.

This issue reached public consciousness through the case of Caster Semenya, the 2008 800 metres world champion who was banned from competition for two years on the grounds of appearing masculine and having high levels of testosterone.

Research doesn’t argue, it investigates. The “humiliating sex testing” to which some persons were subjected was undertaken solely to ensure female athletes weren’t disadvantaged.

Women are not the only group who receive a poor deal in sport. While weight classes in some sports allow smaller athletes a chance at success, there is no such consideration for other traits, such as height. This means that shorter athletes never have a chance in events such as high jump, volleyball and basketball.

Nonsense. Spud Webb (1.68m), Muggsy Bogues (1.6m) Isaiah Thomas (1.75m) and others aren’t tall, yet managed to play professional basketball in the exceptionally competitive NBA. As for volleyball, 1.62m setter Debbie Green played for the US team for 12 years.  Competitive high jumpers tend to fall into a very narrow height range – between 1.8m and 2.00m.

Other athletes are lucky enough to have advantageous traits that do not lead to a ban. For example, they have greater aerobic capacity or stronger fast-twitch fibres (which contract quickly, but get tired fast).

But it is not considered unfair for other athletes to compete against them, as it would be if their weight were too high or they were men rather than women. 

That would be more rather than “stronger fast-twitch fibres”. A weight “too high” is a disadvantage in any sport.

We suggest that in able-bodied sport, it would … make sense to remove the label of male or female and replace it with categories based on the ability of bodies to move in that particular sport. This is a confronting notion, as we are not used to thinking about sex and gender as based on particular traits.

Every sensible person on the planet recognises that sex – and gender, for that matter – is based on particular traits, physical – which is why most trans-persons try to present as the opposite sex – and psychological. Sociologist Kerr now transitions from inane to insane.

In sport, movement is based on physical ability, which is not necessarily linked to sex. In each sport, it would be possible to identify the characteristics which make up a successful athlete and create categories based on those rather than on sex.

Please do tell us how this will be done.

For example, for a 100 metres sprinter, the ideal athlete would perhaps be made up of muscle mass and fast-twitch fibres. Therefore, rather than classifying by sex, sprinters could be classified by their level of muscle mass and fast-twitch fibres.

In another example, in sports such as high jump, volleyball and basketball, athletes could be classified according to muscle mass and height.

Finally, in an endurance sport, athletes could be classified according to muscle mass and lung capacity.

Sports factors

Just a few of the relevant factors to consider in such a classification system: determination; pain tolerance; body mass; muscle mass; trunk to limb-length ratio; hormone levels; bone density; muscle type; age; height; visual acuity; reaction time; red blood cell count; lung capacity; aerobic capacity; flexibility; socio-economic status/level of outside support; stride length; heat/cold tolerance; and so on.

The only way to have a fair competition is for everyone to compete on a truly level playing field where all competitions are open to all competitors without consideration of the infinitely fractionable factors that might affect outcomes. This will, of course, be the death of women’s sports.

Weight lifting is illustrative, men in the 62kg class out-lifting women in the 90kg+ class. Life simply isn’t fair, but there you go.


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