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WOMENS WORDS

You owe Sharron Davies an apology, Jeremy Vine

You allowed India Willoughby to insult her and to mislead your audience.
Sharron Davies

Sharron Davies is one of the best swimmers Britain has ever produced. She would, without a doubt, have been the Olympic gold medallist in 1980 if Petra Schneider had not been doping. She swam in 3 Olympic games in 3 different decades, broke two hundred British swimming records and was British champion on 22 occasions. Her British dominance wasn’t reflected on the world stage only because the swimming authorities failed to deal with the doping of eastern European athletes, so Sharron knows a thing or two about fairness and the impact of losing a level playing field.


Sharron was invited on to the Jeremy Vine show last week to talk about fairness in women’s sport, but what transpired was a masterclass in bad faith from Jeremy Vine and India Willoughby.


The specific case being discussed was whether women’s competitive cycling should be opened to Emily Bridges, who is still registered with British Cycling as male, and was racing and winning in men’s events only weeks before.


Sharron spoke first and made a number if compelling points, noting:

  • that Bridges is male and is able to compete in the men’s events (he is still registered with British Cycling as male too)

  • that reducing testosterone does not remove the advantage conferred by male puberty, and the science supports this

  • that if Emily starts with a 15% performance advantage, a 5% reduction leaves a significant retained advantage.

  • that the Q angle is greater in women than men, which allows males to pedal more efficiently and causes more knee problems and pain in females, pointing out that it doesn’t change with transition.

Astonishingly, when Sharron notes that Emily Bridges will remain male, Jeremy Vine’s asks “even if she physically transitions?” But he doesn’t want to say what he means by this.


This was bad faith comment #1.

You’re supposed to be neutral as the host, Jeremy, so please stop with the leading questions.


India Willoughby’s opener is to say, “I heard a lot of fear and ignorance there, and downright lies”.


India Willoughby, you owe Sharron Davies an apology.
She’s telling the truth and she is correct.

Willoughby now gives an impressive demonstration of spin, half-truths and wishful thinking.


We are told that a paper by Roberts et al shows that after 2 years of hormone treatment, there was no difference between a woman and a transitioning male in the athletics field.


This was bad faith comment #2, because that’s just not true, is it India?

That paper studied military personnel who undergo standardised fitness tests which are different for males and females. Once a person transitions, they do the fitness test for the sex they identify as and – brace yourself – transitioning males managed to pass the test for females. And with flying colours as they were 12% faster in the running test.


We are told that “transwomen” have been able to compete in professional sport for over 50 years, starting with Renee Richards in tennis, but there have still been no trans champions and sports haven’t been “trashed” by trans competitors.


This was bad faith comment #3. That’s not the whole truth, is it India?

Richards rose to being ranked 20th in the Women’s Tennis Association world rankings despite competing in female competitions from the age of 43 against women 20 years younger, and now says it was unfair to have been doing that.


Previous rules in some sports meant that trans people could only compete after having their testes/ovaries removed and full reassignment surgery, which was and remains relatively rare, so very few trans people would have been eligible under the rules. It’s hardly surprising that very few trans competitors even existed let alone won anything. And the IOC rules that allowed Laurel Hubbard to compete only changed in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.


India ignores the question about the Q angle and talks instead about the physical differences within the male sex class – the fact that Peter Crouch is very tall gives him an advantage. That there are always athletes with some advantage, but we don’t stop them from competing.


India – this was bad faith comment #4 and sophistry, pure and simple.

It simply doesn’t follow that because Peter Crouch is taller than Wayne Rooney we should accept some men in women’s sports – those two things are entirely unrelated. You can’t conclude from the fact that Michael Phelps has longer than average arms and bigger than average feet that it’s fine for men to swim against women.


But if you did jump that particular shark, you would also have to accept Peter Crouch in women’s football. And Michael Phelps in women’s swimming.


The differences between males and females are far larger than the differences between tall and short men, or between men with big feet and men with small feet. Michael Phelps was beating his rivals by margins as small as a few tenths of a second, not by 38 whole seconds as demonstrated by Thomas.


Willoughby also claims that before transition, Lia Thomas was ranked 6th in the USA.


That’s just wrong. But let’s assume it was an honest error and you didn’t know Will Thomas was ranked 454th just before switching to the female competition. Thomas’s highest ranking previously had been 32nd in the NCAA College Competition in a single event (1650 freestyle) – so not 6th in the USA.

Jeremy is out of his depth and unable to call out the spin, but Sharron correctly says we need to compare elite male and elite female athletes.


India, in bad faith comment #5 you were wrong to say that Sharron was comparing elite males against regular females.

Oh – and being called out for spin and sophistry is not “trans-aggression”.

India claims two major studies (but doesn’t cite them so we can’t read them) show that “trans people should be included in sport”, a point that has been made a number of times elsewhere. Pretty much everyone benefits from sport and nobody is arguing that trans identified people should not be allowed to compete. This does not mean that they must be allowed to choose the sporting category they compete in though. When men who identify as transgender compete in women’s sport, women are excluded, and that’s simply not fair.


The BBC’s charter says:

“The Mission of the BBC is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.”


The BBC, you owe Sharron Davies an apology.

You allowed biased and misleading information to be output.
You did not check sources or correct errors.
And you allowed a guest to be defamed, live on air.


4th April 2022

Jeremy Vine BBC Radio 2 Thursday 31st March 2022,


References

Roberts paper:

Effect of gender affirming hormones on athletic performance in transwomen and transmen: implications for sporting organisations and legislators

Timothy A Roberts, Joshua Smalley, Dale Ahrendt

Br J Sports Med 2020;0:1–7. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-102329


Loughborough paper:

How does hormone transition in transgender women change body composition, muscle strength and haemoglobin? Systematic review with a focus on the implications for sport participation

Joanna Harper, Emma O’Donnell, Behzad Sorouri Khorashad, Hilary McDermott, Gemma L Witcomb

Br J Sports Med 2021;0:1–9. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2020-103106



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