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The Big Debate: Should transgender women compete in women’s sport?

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by Adam Moynihan

When Lia Thomas won the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships last week, a long-simmering topic was brought to the boil.

Thomas’ victory makes her the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship, a milestone which led the president of World Athletics, Sebastian Coe, to claim that the “integrity of women’s sport… and actually the future of women’s sport, is very fragile”.

Meanwhile, Erica Sullivan, an Olympian who finished third in that 500-yard freestyle, says she is proud to compete alongside Thomas. “As a woman in sports,” Sullivan wrote in Newsweek, “I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women's sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership. Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list.”

Which one of these key stakeholders is right?

For the majority of fans and athletes, this is a relatively new and very complicated subject and I think many of us are still trying to wrap our heads around it. Broadly speaking, public opinion seems to be siding with Coe. Thomas has legions of detractors worldwide, many of whom cite the apparent “unfair advantage” she has over cis women. The American was assigned male at birth and experienced male puberty before transitioning and coming out as trans while in college.

While I do believe that a good number of people on this side of the debate have sincere concerns about fairness and sporting integrity, let’s not kid ourselves here: others are simply transphobic. Some people don’t recognise a transgender woman’s right to identify as a woman. If that’s your starting point then of course you’re not going to condone a transgender woman competing against cis women.

Notorious scaremongers like the Daily Mail and Fox News have been extremely vocal on the issue. They would have you believe that the Thomas case will lead to armies of men simply deciding they are trans so they can take over women’s sport. Firstly, this is massively disrespectful to Thomas as it suggests that her transition is inauthentic. Secondly, who are these men who are willing to officially change their gender and subject themselves to hormone therapy, just so they can beat women at sport?

I suppose everyone is entitled to their own opinions but, as a general rule, if you find that your opinions are perfectly aligning with the vomitous losers who write hate-fuelled columns in the Daily Mail, it’s definitely worth re-evaluating your position.

The fact that transphobia is driving at least some of the anti-trans-women-in-women’s-sport rhetoric has naturally brought about a strong reaction from people in the LGBTQ+ community, as well as those on the left. For some people on this side, it’s black and white: trans women are entitled to equality. That means being treated the same way any other woman would be treated, in any given sphere.

Then there are the people in the middle, people who might support LGBTQ+ rights in general, or who might even consider themselves an “ally”, but still have questions. How can Thomas, who up until 2019 had a male body (she has undergone feminising hormone therapy since), be grouped with cis women in competition? Men and women are segregated in sport for basic biological reasons. If Thomas and other trans women are allowed to compete against cis women, does that mean that those biological differences don’t matter?

Equality and inclusion are beautiful things in the real world but one could argue that sport isn’t really the real world. There are divisions and handicaps and separations in the interest of fair competition.

On the other hand, certain cis women are naturally built differently to other cis women but they are allowed compete side by side. I’m built differently to 6'6" former Kerry footballer Tommy Walsh but I’ve shared a football pitch with him. Should that be allowed? (Probably not, but for different reasons.)

This debate really boils down to one very loaded question: does real life equality trump sport's own version of "fairness", or can sport play by its own rules?

What do you think? Should trans women be allowed to compete in women’s sport? Share your thoughts with Adam by emailing sport@killarneyadvertiser.ie.

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Top Kerry GAA prospect Cillian Burke still weighing up AFL switch

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by Adam Moynihan

Highly-rated Kerry youngster Cillian Burke is set to travel to Australia later this year with a transfer to the Geelong Cats still potentially on the cards.

Conflicting reports sent the rumour mill into overdrive earlier this week with Burke said to be either AFL-bound or simply moving to Australia for a number of months before returning home at some point in 2025.

Although no official statement has been made by any of the relevant parties, the Killarney Advertiser understands that the talented 21-year-old is weighing up his options and he will make a decision on his future after spending some time Down Under in the latter part of 2024.

It is hoped, from a Kerry perspective, that he will decide against the switch, but it is feared that his head may already have been turned.

While few (if any) Kerry supporters would begrudge him his move, they would undoubtedly love to see the athletic middle-third player back in green and gold next season after he caught the eye as a substitute in recent matches. Despite his tender age and lack of experience (this was his first year on the senior panel), the Milltown/Castlemaine man was a game-changer in the All-Ireland quarter-final victory over Derry.

He was also influential in the semi-final against Armagh last weekend, scoring an important point in extra time and setting up another as favourites Kerry fell to an unexpected defeat.

With his impressive size, athleticism and ball skills, Burke could potentially have the makings of a future All-Star so losing him to the AFL would be a significant blow to The Kingdom and their chances of regaining the Sam Maguire trophy.

Geelong have a history of poaching Kerry talent. Pádraig Lucey (Killarney Legion) signed for the Cats in 2014, Mark O’Connor (Dingle) in 2016 and and Stefan Okunbor (Na Gaeil) in 2018.

Lucey and Okunbor later returned to Ireland having not made the inroads they would have been hoping for. Tralee native Okunbor has featured intermittently for Kerry since coming back but his progress has been severely hampered by a series of bad injuries.

O’Connor, meanwhile, has built a fine career for himself in Australia, winning the AFL Grand Final with the Victoria-based club in 2022.

Previously, Tadhg Kennelly (Listowel Emmets) and Tommy Walsh (Kerins O’Rahillys) played for the Sydney Swans. More recently, Rob Monahan (Ardfert) signed for Carlton in 2023.

Burke isn’t the only Kerry starlet currently on the radar of AFL scouts. Two members of this year’s Kerry U20 team, Charlie Keating (Dr Crokes) and Tomás Kennedy (Kerins O’Rahillys), are reportedly considering offers.

It is also believed that Aussie teams have their eyes on as many as four other Kerry prospects.

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‘There’s definitely more in me’ – Leahy feeling positive after close-run thing at nationals

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Kerry woman Sarah Leahy chats to Adam Moynihan about her recent outing at the National Outdoor Championships in Dublin. The Killarney Valley AC sprinter competed with the best of the best, including new Irish record holder Rhasidat Adeleke.

Adam Moynihan: You recently took part in the 100m final at the National Championships. How was that experience for you?

Sarah Leahy: Atmosphere-wise it was absolutely amazing. Just very good energy all around. And coming out for the final, obviously, Rhasidat brought a massive crowd. So that was really cool to be a part of because I don’t think there’s ever been a crowd that big at nationals before. To be in the final where so many people were there to watch her was obviously amazing.

What about the race itself?

I came fifth and ran a time of 11.74. On the day, with the whole excitement of it all, I was actually really happy with that. I was a bit disappointed but I was like, it’s a great day overall. I ran well, didn’t get a medal but I was really close. I didn’t get the perfect start like I did in the heat. So I was a little bit behind, but I just managed to come fifth in the end.

A week on, the excitement has kind of worn off, and I think there’s definitely a lot more in me. I could’ve pipped the third place But yeah, it is what it is. It was still good. I’m happy with it.

It was very tight for third place, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it was two-or-three-hundredths of a second and it was a blanket finish for four of us. So it was close but no cigar. Not this time. I came fifth last year as well, so I was hoping for at least fourth this year, but it ended up being the same. At least it wasn’t sixth! And there’s definitely more in me as well. Time-wise I’m just waiting for it to kind of happen a little bit. I believe it will. It was amazing to be in a race where a national record was broken.

And the standard was obviously very high across the board. All the big names were there.

It was a very high standard, yeah. Going in we kind of knew that first and second were gone (to Adeleke and Sarah Lavin). Everyone else was battling for that third medal and only one person could get it in the end. (Mollie O’Reilly got the bronze.) We were all close.

But overall I was super grateful to be in the mix, especially in a race that was that big. It’s one that will go down in history. It was a massive weekend and it was very enjoyable.

Rhasidat is a massive superstar now. What’s it like to run alongside her?

Rhasidat is a great athlete and a very nice girl. As you can see in interviews, she’s very humble. So to compete next to her, to literally be running in the lane right beside her, was amazing. I couldn’t have asked for more from the day in that respect. I thought she might have ran sub-11 because she did it before but she still got a national record. To be part of that race was a big deal for me.

Athletics in Ireland seems to be in a good place, particularly after the success the Irish team had in the recent European Championships in Rome. Does it feel like the sport is getting more attention and more recognition these days?

Oh 100%. Support for athletics has grown hugely in the last few years and I think it’ll continue to grow, especially with the success that Ireland had at the European Championships. I think the Olympics this year is going to drive that on even more because we have such great athletes going. The support is growing and rightfully so. The athletes are really getting the recognition they deserve. I think the future is very exciting for athletics in Ireland.

What about your own career? What’s next for you?

I have one last race of the season left, which is at the AAI Games on Sunday in Dublin. I’m hoping to just get a good run out, a good time, and execute the race well. Training will continue until the end of July, I’ll get a month off, and then we’re back training for indoors next year. I love indoors. I think I excel at that. There’s European Indoors and World Indoors next year, so to qualify for them would be a huge, huge goal.

As for outdoors, I’d like to get on the Irish relay team, but I’ll be focussing on indoors first. It should be a good year.

Are you enjoying it?

Yeah, I’m really enjoying it. I think sometimes you might put too much pressure on yourself and try to get a PB in every race but this year I’ve really learned that I’ve done the training, so it will happen when it happens. Just go out and run and let your body do its thing. And I’m actually really enjoying competing this year. I know I’m going to continue enjoying it for the next few years.

With the surrounding support of the club and coaches and my training group, it’s all going really well for me at the moment. I have no complaints at all. I’m very lucky.

Thanks for your time, Sarah, and all the best for the rest of the season.

Thank you very much, Adam. It was lovely talking to you.

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