BEFORE you read any further, this week’s column comes with a public health warning; I’m about to mention Piers Morgan.

Earlier this week, the Good Morning Britain host had a furious row with Labour leadership hopeful, Lisa Nandy, over trans athletes, with the former newspaper editor arguing it would be “grotesquely unfair” on female athletes for male to female transgender athletes to be able to self-identify and compete in women’s sport.

This is not new; the debate about trans-athletes has been bubbling under for some time. In recent years, there have been a number of trans-athletes who have been born into male bodies but after transitioning to become female, have taken part in women’s sport.

While it is not the case that every single one of them has blown away the competition, there are enough trans-athletes who have come into women’s sport and sailed past their competitors to flag up there is a huge issue here.

In recent times, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard won two gold medals at the Pacific Games, Canadian track cyclist Rachel McKinnon set a world best time at the Masters Track Cycling World Championships and college athlete CeCé Telfer became the NCAA Division II national champion in the 400m.

And as you get further down the chain, away from the very top level, there are becoming more and more examples of trans athletes popping up and winning titles.

So far, elite sport has been relatively untouched by the transgender issue but McKinnon has spoken of her hopes of seeing a trans-athlete compete at the Tokyo Olympics this summer, which would be the first time a transgender athlete has reached such a level.

And while the debate about what exactly the rules around trans-athletes should be has not topped the agenda yet, it seems inevitable that before long, this issue will explodes.

There is the suggestion from some, and this was at the heart of Morgan and Nandy’s tussle, that trans people should be allowed to self-identify.

On the whole, I have no issue with this. But as soon as you allow athletes to self-identify, you risk throwing a grenade into sport.

There is little doubt that for the vast majority of trans people, taking part in sport is well down their list of motivations when it comes to making this monumental life-choice.

But there can also be little doubt that if self-identification is the only criteria, Morgan is right in his assertion that it would prove disastrous for women’s sport.

There are currently no clear rules as to what should happen when it comes to trans-athletes, and this is where the problem lies. Without rules, too often discrimination comes to the fore, but how can it be ensured female athletes are not at a disadvantage?

In America, things are reaching boiling point, with suggestions from some that trans-athletes should be banned entirely from sport. Indeed, just last week, a bill was passed in Arizona that prohibits transgender females from participating in girls’ sports entirely, although that law was quickly met with a barrage of protests which claims it discriminates against trans people.

There is little doubt that if the only criteria is self-identification, this could be the end of sport as we know it. Those who are born men have physical advantages that no matter now hard those who are born female train, they are unlikely to match. And it remains unclear that while male to female trans people take hormones to ensure the acquire a similar hormonal make-up to those who have been born female, do they lose their previous physical advantages entirely?

How is it possible to protect the rights both of females and of trans people simultaneously?

In most walks of life, self-identification presents few problems. But sport is a different sphere entirely and the major issue currently seems to be not what the rules are, but that there remains a lack of clear guidelines to which individual sports should adhere.

This issue is not going to go away. And the longer it takes to set out clear rules, there more problems are going to arise, and the harder it is going to be to set things straight again.


Sunday was International Women’s Day and to mark the occasion, Andy Murray penned a piece giving his thoughts on equality.

Murray has long been a champion of equality and what has always been most impressive about him it that the 32-year-old has a history of putting his money where his mouth is.

The Scot is one of the few top male tennis players to have a had a female coach and in his recent piece, he was quick to point out that the current discrepancy throughout global sport - only 11 percent of coaches at the Olympic Games are female - proves a considerable amount of work still needs to be done.

That, in 2020, we are still having these same conversations about how few coaches at the top of sport are female, is depressing. Most observers would have liked to have thought that women would have had enough support and opportunities by now to ensure they were not outnumbered quite as drastically as they still are.

Progress is being made, but slowly. However having one of the greatest British athletes ever championing the cause will, hopefully, help speed up the journey towards equality.