Unfair or not?
Although more research is needed, it is not implausible that a Y chromosome offers advantages – the large number of elite athletes with XY chromosomes can hardly be denied. But is there an unfair advantage? Virtually every sport has body types that provide an advantage: basketball players are tall, longer arms are an advantage in some martial arts, jockeys in a horse race weigh little, good runners have long legs in proportion to their upper body, marathon runners benefit from narrow hips and optimal stride length, and so on.
The argument of the sports organizations is that women should not have too high a testosterone level, otherwise the playing field is not level. This implicitly says that women with naturally high testosterone levels are cheating, and other women should be protected from that. There are a number of arguments against this.
The most obvious counter-argument, of course, is that other athletes are also not protected from competitors who have been ‘favored’ by nature. You never are. Indeed, winning in sport is based precisely on making full use of those advantages.
In 2010, Frenchman Christope Lemaitre was the first white man to finish the 100-meter run in under 10 seconds. No one ever said there was an uneven playing field then. No one made the suggestion that Lemaitre should have a half-second head start, or that Usain Bolt’s legs should be shortened a bit. Such suggestions are obviously completely nonsensical, but so is removing someone’s gonads or prescribing dangerous drugs to healthy women.
An even more important argument is that the Y chromosome and the possible influence of naturally higher testosterone levels are far from the only genetic causes for better athletic performance.
From the human gene map, it has been known since 2005 that 170 genes and QTLs (quantitative trait locations) are linked to physical performance and health-related phenotypes. In addition, 17 mitochondrial genes are known to have a sequence variation that influences fitness and performance. Success in sports consists of at least 50% genetic predisposition. In the article Genetics and Sports, published in 2009 in British Medical Bulletin, the authors show that winning in sports is by definition a matter of genetic advantage. Therefore, modifying women with a scalpel and medications because they have an advantage, whether real or imaginary, should not be presented as creating a ‘level playing field’.