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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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Lough Lein anglers enjoy annual charity day 

It’s always a popular event, and Sunday was no different for the members of the Lough Lein Anglers Association. The Killarney club, one of the longest established fishing clubs in Ireland, […]

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It’s always a popular event, and Sunday was no different for the members of the Lough Lein Anglers Association.

The Killarney club, one of the longest established fishing clubs in Ireland, held their 34th annual charity open fly fishing competition known simply as ‘The Charity’.

It’s part of the angling tradition in the club and is always the most popular event on the fly fishing calendar in Ireland.

Spearheaded by Timo O’Sullivan, to date the anglers have raised in excess of €229,000 for deserving charities in Kerry and Cork. The main sponsor of the event is Lee Strand Co-op, Tralee.

This year’s deserving beneficiaries are the Kerry Hospice Foundation and The Saoirse Foundation – BUMBLEance.

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‘What Louise said was bang on’ – Kerry ladies back Ní Mhuircheartaigh in facilities row

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by Adam Moynihan

The Kerry ladies are “100%” behind Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh following her comments about the team’s limited access to Kerry GAA’s Centre of Excellence in Currans.

Ní Mhuircheartaigh caused a stir late last week when she revealed that she and her teammates have not been allowed to train at the state-of-the-art facility, which is owned and operated by the men’s county board.

Kerry’s star forward described the lack of access as “annoying”, especially considering the fact that a large photograph of her adorns the entrance to the facility.

Speaking exclusively to this journalist on The Kerry Football Podcast, Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s teammate Kayleigh Cronin confirmed that the whole team are on the same page on this issue.

“I think what Louise said was bang on and we all 100% agree with it,” Cronin said.

“She was put in a bit of a tough position being asked about it, but what she got off her chest is 100% what the team feels. And I can say with certainty that I can speak on behalf of not only all the girls in the dressing room but the backroom team and management as well in saying that what Louise has said is all of our opinions.

“What’s said is said now. We’ll leave it out there for everyone else to be thinking about and to be talking about. Hopefully the county boards can sort it out between themselves. As far as we’re concerned, that’s us done with it.”

In the wake of Ní Mhuircheartaigh’s comments, Kerry GAA released a statement via Balls.ie:

“Kerry GAA have been in discussions with the Kerry LGFA in relation to their use of the Centre of Excellence facilities in Currans and the future development of one of the two undeveloped pitches in the complex for specific use by the Kerry LGFA and Kerry Camogie

“The Kerry LGFA have been accommodated with training facilities at the Centre of Excellence over the past number of years and this will continue to be the case.

“We look forward to working in close collaboration with Kerry LGFA to bring our collective future development plans to fruition.”

Dr Crokes star Cronin says she and her teammates are “absolutely” keen to see that happen.

“We had the pleasure of being in there prior to COVID. It’s an unbelievable facility. It’s obviously very central as well. So hopefully, fingers crossed, the county boards can work together and get the pitch in good nick, so that not only we can use it but the underage teams as well.

“It would be great to have a base to go from in the future.”

Cronin added that team are now focussing on Saturday’s Munster final against Cork, which takes place before the men’s final at 12.15pm in the Fitzgerald Stadium.

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