Jul 26, 2021 - Sports

Exclusive poll: The deep divide over trans athletes in Olympics

Do you think that transgender athletes should compete against...
Data: Momentive; Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

Americans are deeply divided over how transgender athletes should compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, with no option even coming close to a consensus view, according to a new Axios/Momentive poll.

By the numbers: While 39% of people say transgender athletes should compete against others of the gender they were assigned at birth, 20% say they should compete against others of the gender with which they identify.

  • 14% say trans athletes should not be allowed to compete at all, and 23% say they don’t know. 
  • Republicans are more likely to say that trans athletes should compete as the gender that they were assigned at birth (58%) or not be allowed to compete (23%).
  • On the other hand, Democrats are more likely to say that they should be allowed to compete as the gender with which they now identify.

The big picture: This year's Games will include at least 142 athletes who are publicly part of the LGBTQ community, which is "more than have participated at all other Summer Games combined," Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

Driving the news: Last month, the New Zealand Olympic Committee announced that Laurel Hubbard, 43, had been selected for the country's women's weightlifting team for the Olympics — making her the first openly transgender woman to compete at the event.

  • In addition, Chelsea Wolfe, an alternate on the BMX freestyle team, will become the first trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA.
  • Quinn, who came out as non-binary and transgender last fall, is playing for Canada's women's soccer team. They won a bronze medal in the Rio Games before coming out.

The intrigue: After Hubbard's participation in the Games was announced, she received support from several athletes, but some argued that she had an unfair advantage.

  • Anna Van Bellinghen, a Belgian weightlifter who could compete against Hubbard, told Olympics news site Inside the Games that while she supports the trans community, Hubbard's participation is "unfair to the sport and to the athletes."
  • Van Bellinghen suggested that since Hubbard, who started transitioning at 35, lived two decades "with the hormonal system of a man," she has an advantage over cisgender women.

Yes, but: New Zealand authorities said Hubbard has met the IOC rules for testosterone levels, the Washington Post reports.

Context: The International Olympic Committee in 2015 updated its guidelines on transgender athletes — which previously said that trans athletes had to undergo surgery — to say that those transitioning from female to male are eligible to compete in the male categories without any restrictions.

  • Those transitioning from male to female can compete in female categories as long as they meet these specific conditions: They must declare their gender identity as female, they must demonstrate low levels of testosterone, and they must agree to be subjected to testing.
  • There is limited research to support the claim that higher testosterone levels offer an unfair advantage.
  • The range of testosterone in non-transgender women also varies widely, an issue which has prompted rules that have also excluded a number of non-transgender women from these games, including two Namibian sprinters.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Ina Fried: Polling is one way of assessing how people feel, but not all issues boil down to how things poll. Many people see this as a matter of fundamental human rights, even if working out equitable details is complicated and challenging.

What's next: Navigating this issue is going to become all the more critical as more and more young people identify as transgender and nonbinary, often at young ages.

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