Women's Sports: Rachel McKinnon believes trans women have a 'human right' to compete

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Rachel McKinnon, one of today’s most well-known and successful trans athletes, has spoken out against those who say she should not be allowed to compete in women’s cycling.

The Canadian athlete became the first trans athlete to win the 35-44 sprint Gold at the Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Canada. 

She also won the Gold at the Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester on Saturday but has ruled out competing at the Olympics in Tokyo 2020.

The 2018 World Champion in the 35-44 sprint category said it would be ‘unfair’ for sport’s governing bodies to exclude her, as a trans athlete, from the female competition. She currently ranks 85th in the women's elite competition.

Speaking to Sky News, McKinnon explained it was her ‘human right’ to compete and that all her ‘medical records say female’.

"There's a stereotype that men are always stronger than women, so people think there is an unfair advantage. By preventing trans women from competing or requiring them to take medication, you're denying their human rights," the 37-year-old said.

“My doctor treats me as a female person, my racing licence says female, but people who oppose my existence still want to think of me as male.”

Does McKinnon retain an advantage?

McKinnon believes she should be given the opportunity to compete in female cycling. Yet she is the first to admit that as a trans athlete she may still retain some physical advantages over her fellow competitors.

“Yes, it is possible. But there are elite track cyclists who are bigger than me,”

“There is a range of body sizes and strength, you can be successful with massively different body shapes. To take a British example, look at Victoria Pendleton, an Olympic champion with teeny tiny legs.

"In many Olympic disciplines, the gap in performance is bigger between first and eighth in a single-sex event than it is between the first man and the first woman.”

A delicate debate

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute has published often-cited research on the topic of transgender athletes and their potential competitive advantages. It suggests that the leg strength of trans women is negligibly impacted by hormone treatment.

British Masters track athlete and former champion, Victoria Hood, has spoken out on the issue and believes that the inclusion of athletes like McKinnon is “excluding women and girls from their own category, it's not fair”. 

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After McKinnon won gold and broke the world record in 2018, Hood spoke out about and said: "The science is there. The science is clear - it tells us that trans women have an advantage.

"The world record has just been beaten today by somebody born male, who now identifies as female, and the gap between them and the next born female competitor was quite a lot.”

This week the IAAF, athletic’s world governing body, ruled that trans female athletes must lower their testosterone levels, through hormone treatment.

Under new guidelines, trans women athletes must keep their levels of natural testosterone below 5 nanomoles per litre of blood. The previous limit was 10 nanomoles.

These new rules will also apply to female athletes, like Caster Semenya, who have differences of sexual development (DSD).

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