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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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Kerry will need more intensity, more physicality and more collaboration to bounce back from Dub drubbing

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by Adam Moynihan

In the 22nd minute of last Saturday night’s league match in Croke Park, Lee Gannon collected a pass on his own 65 and carried the ball unchallenged right into the heart of Kerry’s defence. Brian Fenton took over and a tackle by Diarmuid O’Connor slowed the attack.

Then Fenton looked up and saw that Niall Scully was standing at the top of the D, completely unmarked. It was a simple five-metre handpass to the centre, and Scully had all the time in the world to steady himself and shoot. His point made it Dublin 2-8 Kerry 0-5. Ten shots for Dublin. Ten scores. One-way traffic.

The Dubs deserve credit for their accuracy in front of the posts – Con O’Callaghan was particularly excellent – but the ease with which they were creating their openings was startling from a Kerry perspective. For Scully’s score, the resistance was non-existent. If the same thing happened in a training match, the manager would be well within his rights to call off the session and send everyone home.

The cameras may have been trained on Kerry’s full back line and, yes, Jason Foley and Dylan Casey were struggling against O’Callaghan and Paddy Small, but Kerry were found wanting all over the pitch. You could have sailed the Titanic down the centre of their defence and O’Callaghan exploited that space to great effect for his third goal. Foley got hoodwinked by a lovely piece of movement by the Dublin full forward, but where was the help?

Centre back Tadhg Morley was pushing up on Dublin dangerman Seán Bugler but that’s the thing with Dublin: all their forwards are dangerous in one way or another. Maybe Tadhg was following instructions but you wonder if he could have cheated off Bugler when the all-action centre forward was outside the 45.

Whether it’s Morley or someone else, that gap in front of the goal needs to be filled – especially against teams of Dublin’s calibre.

What we saw in Croke Park last Saturday was a far cry from the solid defensive structure that won Kerry an All-Ireland in 2022, that’s for sure. You can be certain that Jack O’Connor will be demanding a far more intense, more physical and more collaborative performance against Tyrone on Sunday (1.15pm).

KICKOUTS

Speaking after the Dublin game, O’Connor said that his side “malfunctioned” on the kickouts. While Dublin keeper David O’Hanlon was firing out his kicks like a machine gun, Shane Ryan was far more measured with his. Dublin’s press was brilliant in fairness to them but you’d have to question Kerry’s appetite for making honest, hard runs and receiving the ball in potentially tight areas.

Graham O’Sullivan and Brian Ó Beaglaoich (who is currently injured) are outstanding when it comes to breaking free and accepting that responsibility. You’d like to see one or two more backs getting in on the act.

As for Ryan himself, could he be a bit quicker and a bit more adventurous with his distribution? Look, if there’s nothing on, there’s nothing on, but I think at times he could back himself more resolutely. He has the range and the accuracy.

Of course, if he takes a risk and it gets intercepted he’ll be in line for even sharper criticism, so you can understand him being cautious when the kick isn’t 100% on.

Whatever the solution, on the evidence of the Dublin and Derry games, Kerry do need to try something a bit different to beat the press. Tyrone are unlikely to be as aggressive as Dublin were but when they do push up, it will be fascinating to see how Kerry deal with it.

Kerry’s midfielders also need to compete aerially against whoever they’re up against when it goes long – even if that’s Brian Fenton or Conor Glass or Brendan Rogers. It’s not easy to get the better of these guys in the air (or to break even, which would do) but that’s the level required.

Joe O’Connor showed that his ball skills have improved markedly by taking his goal and his point so cleanly, and he is doing well in general, but he and his namesake Diarmuid will have to be more impactful both from kickouts and without the ball if Kerry want to be a real force this season.

Personally, I would like to see Seán O’Brien getting some more game time. He has only played six minutes since being taken off early on his debut against Derry five weeks ago. Kerry will need back-up at midfield as the season goes on and O’Brien has a lot of potential.

FORWARDS

Up front, the main positive is that Cillian Burke continues to make his presence felt. Even when his more experienced teammates were faltering the last night, Burke stood tall and played his usual game. And he swung over a great score for good measure.

David Clifford will be disappointed that he didn’t convert one of his goal chances – the first one was definitely there for the taking – but you know that over the course of the season he’ll finish more of those than he misses. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he comes out and strokes one in on Sunday.

It’s nice to see Tony Brosnan back on the pitch as well. He deserves some kind fortune following a tough spell with illness and injury.

Tyrone coming to Killarney gives the players the perfect opportunity to bounce back quickly and show supporters – and themselves – that the Dublin game was a glitch and nothing more. Improvements are needed all over the pitch but the sight of the Red Hand should bring focus and resolve.

A good performance, a win and two points would put a lot of minds at ease.

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Killarney girls will answer Ireland’s call

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A trio of talented young Killarney rugby players have been called up to the Ireland U18 squad for the upcoming Six Nations festival in Wales.

Ava O’Malley, Fia Whelan and Emma Dunican have all been included in Matt Gill’s panel for the tournament, which will take place between March 29 and April 6. They will link up with their new teammates for three weekend training camps at the IRFU’s High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus in Dublin during the month of March.

Gill, the current Women’s Provincial Talent Coach for Leinster, will be assisted by Sana Govender, who has previously coached Munster Women’s teams.

“I’m really looking forward to continuing our Irish U18 Women’s Six Nations preparations and getting our camps underway,” the head coach said. “I’m excited to work with Sana and our management team, and to work with this incredibly talented group of players.”

O’Malley, Whelan and Dunican are products of Killarney RFC’s blossoming youth set-up and all three were on the U18.5 team that recently won the Munster League.

Including the Killarney girls, there are seven Munster-based players on the 35-woman squad with 15 hailing from Leinster, eight from Connacht and five from Ulster.

“It’s a very proud day for the girls, their families, teammates and coaches, and for Killarney RFC,” the club commented. “Best of luck, girls!”

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