For Whom Does the Bell of Justice Toll?

Gender has always been important in sports. The ancient Olympics banned women from participating in or even watching the games. Gender was subject to censorship. The same is true of the modern Olympics, which have been held since 1896. Founder Baron de Coubertin blocked women from participating, as he claimed the sight of them sweating was “unaesthetic,” and increased the number of events that women could participate in only after facing a huge backlash. Gender was even more of a sensitive subject during the Cold War. As the Olympics became a competition for pride among nations, suspicions emerged that men might secretly enter women’s competitions to win.

Since 1950, there has been a system established in which doctors directly examine the naked bodies of female athletes. Although the system was changed to a chromosome test in 1967, the insult remained. Poland’s Eva Kłobukowska, who won medals in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, was tested in 1967 and determined to have sex chromosomes that were not XX. As she was “not a woman,” the new records she had set were erased, and her athletic career also came to an end. But the following year, Eva gave birth. It is possible to have ovaries and a uterus, even while possessing a Y chromosome. The nonsensical gender testing that discounted the diverse bodies of human beings was discontinued only in 1992. In the 2000s, the standard was changed to hormones. It is a system in which sports organizations do not judge gender but set the qualification for women’s competitions based on a certain level of testosterone in the body. There is no such condition in men’s competitions, as there is a premise that men are physically superior to women. You just need to protect the women to run among themselves.

Recently, 22-year-old transgender female athlete Lia Thomas won first place in the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA swimming championship this past March. Although Thomas fully met all the qualifications required of an athlete, arguments calling for her ban emerged. The logic was that, no matter how low her testosterone levels were, she was male during the body’s major growth period so her physical conditions were inevitably advantageous compared to biological women. Now, what gender an athlete spent their adolescence as became a criterion for judging. In addition, there were suspicions and attacks that Thomas had moved to the women’s division to win because she was not successful as a male athlete. Of course, that is not true.

Thomas had placed sixth in the 1,000-yard freestyle in her debut in the Ivy League Championships in February 2018 and was a rising star who had won second place in the 500-yard, 1,000-yard and 1,650-yard freestyles in February 2019. As her concerns about her identity deepened, even suffering a panic attack in the pool, she courageously came out to her coach. She began hormone therapy in May 2019 and wore a women’s swimsuit when competing in the men’s games later that November. Transgender women had to comply with the stipulation that they had to have undergone hormone therapy for at least a year. It was during this time that Thomas finished 554th place in the 200-yard freestyle. It is this very performance, comparing it to the one this past March, on which detractors base their claim that she moved over to the women’s events as she was unlikely to gain the spotlight as a man. But if you look at her previous records, Thomas is simply a person with a talent for swimming.

Opponents claim that they are not doing so out of a hatred for transgender people, but rather because they seek to maintain fairness in sports. Using that same logic, several states in the United States have already enacted ordinances that prohibit transgender youth from competing as female athletes. Fairness is an important value. I agree. So, I wonder: Any cisgender person can become an athlete if they want to, but how can we resolve this unfairness in which only transgender women cannot be given any opportunities to compete in sports, no matter how much they want to? Perhaps it is premature to concern ourselves in South Korea, where a transgender athlete has yet to come out. Looking at the current reality, where famous politicians promote hatred of people with disabilities, saying that they are only trying to protect good citizens, it is decidedly not. The question must continue. Disabled people cannot become citizens who use the subway on a daily basis, and transgender people cannot become citizens who enjoy sports. Is it really fairness, equality and human dignity that we have maintained and protected?

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