During the FIFA World Cup this November, I finally got into soccer (or football, whatever you want to call it). While there were many amazing performances during the tournament, it would be pretty hard to deny that Lionel Messi was the protagonist. From a shocking upset to open the tournament to winning a thriller against France for the championship, Messi and the Argentine side seemed to be following some sort of script. With all the praise and notoriety Messi has received throughout his career, (let’s face it, I’ve known his name for over a decade despite just getting into the sport now) I decided to read up a bit on his life story, and I learned something very interesting.
According to Bleacher Report, Messi took Human Growth Hormone as a child to treat a growth hormone disorder he had. This treatment allowed him to grow taller than he would have naturally, as well as “help [him] deal with a variety of internal issues, such as pituitary function, skin and teeth problems, poor vision and lower immunity.”
In conversations I’ve heard about whether Messi is the greatest soccer player of all-time, or if he deserves all of the accolades he has accumulated, this is not a prominent point used against him. More importantly, the sporting bodies that have governed his play have never tried to disallow him from competing.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with transgender athletes.
There are an unfortunately large number of attacks on trans athletes from the scholastic level to the Olympic one, and one happens to be going on right now in the state of Connecticut.
District 47 Representative Doug Dubitsky has put forth H.B. 6213 for the 2023 session, which includes the following language:
“Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened: That title 10 of the general statutes be amended to prohibit student athletes who were born of the male sex from participating and competing in women’s interscholastic athletic events.”
A statement of position in the bill later said that the reason for the amendment would be to “eliminate unfair competition in women’s interscholastic sporting competition.”
Fairness to cisgender female athletes is often something that comes into play when those who wish to limit trans athletes’ rights to compete make their arguments. Whether discussing those who transition medically, those who simply compete in a gender designation not aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth or both, and it’s simply not an argument made in good faith.
If fairness in sport really was all this was about, Messi wouldn’t be where he is today. Sure, the Connecticut example and his case aren’t exactly the same, as one pertains to high school student athletes and one relates to the highest echelon of competition in the world, but the attacks on trans athletes extend all the way up the ladder.
According to a June 2022 Reuters article, FIFA (the governing body for international soccer) is reviewing its rules related to trans athlete participation following a move by the international swimming governing body, FINA, to restrict trans women from competition, opting to create a new category for them to compete in instead.
After the FINA rule change, trans women can only compete in international swimming if “they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later.”
If FIFA, which governs a sport whose arguably greatest competitor ever is someone that underwent a hormone treatment to give him a more comfortable life, chooses to deny trans women that same courtesy, fairness is not the real reason why.
In the end, when someone makes a decision that will allow them to live a life that they are comfortable living, no matter how they identify, they should not be penalized. In the case of trans athletes, those who aim to punish them make it very clear that transphobia is their motivation, and not athletic fairness. Dubitsky’s bill is a perfect example — he did not bother to use language respectful of trans identity, because he clearly doesn’t care.
Just get rid of women’s sports and have everyone compete together, problem solved.