April 25, 2024 - 10:00am

It’s one of those unfathomable mysteries. Generations of athletes have been segregated by sex, with men’s times consistently faster than the women’s. Now it turns out that the whole thing was unnecessary, because a new study suggests that a bunch of unfit men don’t have much advantage over women who exercise regularly. I mean, really?

So it would seem. “New study bolsters idea of athletic differences between men and trans women,” the New York Times announced. Not between trans women and women, as one might expect, but trans women and other men. One can almost hear the palpable sigh of relief at the paper, which has otherwise gone a bit terfy since the publication of the Cass Report. The study’s most important finding, the newspaper announces, is that “trans women are not biological men.”

Cathy Devine, who was senior lecturer in sport and physical activity at the University of Cumbria for more than two decades, was caustic on X. “This study compared unfit, overweight trans women (males) to fit females,” she wrote. Sports scientist Tommy Kundberg previously explained that “the cohorts are not matched and the main comparison is between fit/trained reference women and unfit transgender women.”

The authors of the new study are certainly not shy about revealing their own preconceptions. Their use of terms such as “cisgender” women and “assigned female at birth” hardly suggests an impartial approach, while raising a fascinating question. If we are all randomly assigned a sex at birth, how are we to know that the “cisgender” women in the study were actually female, rather than boys brought up in the “wrong” gender?

The main effect of studies of this kind is to sow confusion. After years of being told that trans women are horrifically oppressed, many people are nervous about the concept of refusing them access to anything, including women’s sports. They are unsettled by references to testosterone levels and maximal oxygen consumption, which few non-scientists know anything about.

It’s all a distraction from the obvious fact that men are bigger and stronger than women. Men are on average 13 cm, or five inches, taller and their skeletons are visibly different, which is how archaeologists are able to identify the sex of people who lived thousands of years ago. The difference can’t be hidden in photographs of medal ceremonies, where six-foot-something men tower over the women they’ve just beaten in manifestly unfair competition.

At a moment when the gender ideology juggernaut is in retreat, the New York Times tuts over the number of “outright bans” on transgender athletes in the US. These “bans” do not exist, except in the fevered imaginations of trans activists who regard a return to time-honoured practice — separate sports categories for men and women — as unspeakably “transphobic”.

With the Olympic Games on the horizon in Paris, the stakes could not be higher. Mediocre male athletes realised some time ago that previously unattainable success was within their grasp, if only they could compete against women rather than the world’s fastest men. They throw tantrums when they’re not allowed to impose their delusions on the rest of us, but they have an insurmountable problem. No research can blind us to the evidence of our own eyes.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.