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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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It’s tip-off time for new-look Lakers

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National League Division 1

Scotts Lakers v Limerick Sport Eagles

Saturday at 7.30pm

Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre

The 2022/23 National League tips off on Saturday evening and the Scotts Lakers will be hoping to get their campaign off to a flyer at home to the Limerick Sport Eagles.

The Lakers narrowly missed out on a playoff berth last time around, mainly due to a disappointing start to the season. Playing their first four home games at alternative venues probably didn’t help; the Killarney Sports & Leisure Centre was being used as a makeshift vaccination centre at the time. That’s all ancient history now, thankfully.

With that in mind, a fast start will be a priority, beginning with the visit of the Eagles this weekend.

ROSTER

It’s always difficult to tell until at least a few matches have been played but head coach Jarlath Lee appears to have made some good moves during the off-season.

Godwin Boahen will be missed but Dutch point guard Esebio Strijdhaftig has come in as a replacement, and Ukrainian big man Dmytro Berozkin – all 6’10” of him – has also come on board.

American shooter Eric Cooper Jr’s time here was brief; he has moved on already with Indiana native Jack Ferguson filling his shoes. Just like former laker Seán O’Brien, Ferguson played college ball with Colgate University.

The Lakers have retained the services of Portuguese player Rui Saravia, a skilled passer who has settled in nicely.

Just as essential as the imports are the local players who make up the majority of the squad. Mark O’Shea and Paul Clarke are important figures in the squad, although their involvement is likely to be curtailed by football commitments for the time being.

Youngsters Jamie O’Sullivan, Senan O’Leary and David Gleeson could well see more game time this season after exhibiting great promise in 2021/22, and other St Paul’s graduates like Mark Sheahan, Jack O’Sullivan and Eoin Carroll will also play their part.

A player to keep a close eye on is Ronan Collins, a Gneeveguilla native who has represented Ireland with distinction at underage level.

The club will be hoping for a healthy turnout for their season opener.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ crosstown rivals the Killarney Cougars have an away fixture to get things started. They take on SETU Carlow (formerly IT Carlow) at the Barrow Centre on Saturday evening.

WOMEN’S LEAGUE

The St Paul’s women’s team (who are back in the National League for the first time since 2012) are also ready for their opening match of the new campaign. They travel to Kilkenny to take on the Marble City Hawks on Saturday at 7pm.

The team is managed by well-known local coach James Fleming and will be backboned by Killarney players like Lynn Jones, Rheanne O’Shea, Cassandra Buckley and current Ireland U16 international Leah McMahon.

Canadian Sophia Paska (formerly of the Limerick Celtics) and American Yuleska Ramirez Tejeda (ex-Limerick Sport Huskies) will add some recent league experience to the squad.

Paul’s first home game of the 2022/23 season will come next Saturday, October 8 against the Celtics.

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Adam Moynihan: Culture of lawlessness is partly to blame for GAA violence

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Why are so many GAA matches turning violent and/or abusive to the point that they need to be abandoned?

In Kerry, two underage fixtures had to be called off this past month alone. One, an U11 hurling game in which scores weren’t even being kept, was ended prematurely by the referee who was apparently on the receiving end of persistent verbal abuse. Another, an U15 football match in Kilcummin, came to a halt after a Cordal mentor was allegedly physically assaulted. The man in question ended up in hospital.

The spate of violence has not been confined to Kerry. Far from it. Matches in Roscommon, Wexford and Mayo have also been blighted by attacks on match officials. And some referees are rightly saying, “no more”. After a ref was attacked at a minor game in Roscommon last month, referees across the county briefly went on strike in solidarity.

If GAA officials are not concerned about the same thing happening again, quite conceivably on a wider scale, they should be.

Where does it all come from, this abuse and this violence? Why is it so prevalent in Gaelic games?

While it’s true that there is invariably a negative public reaction to instances of violence at GAA matches, I actually think a significant percentage of stakeholders are too accepting of it as a phenomenon.

Take the Armagh-Galway incident from this past summer for example. When Armagh sub Tiernan Kelly waded into a melee and gouged Damien Comer’s eye, the video footage enraged the vast majority of people who saw it. Kelly was widely condemned for his actions, even by outsiders like media personalities and politicians.

But then came the counter-reaction from within GAA circles. They said that Kelly was being vilified. The response was over the top. He was a good guy who simply made a mistake. These things happen.

As a GAA lover I personally can’t stand it when people who don’t follow the sport weigh in on these issues (politicians especially) but, for me, most of what was initially said about Kelly was justified. Sticking your finger in someone’s eye doesn’t just happen. It’s a despicable act of violence. In the end he got a six-month ban, meaning he misses a grand total of zero intercounty matches. Does that punishment fit the crime?

Surely a stronger message needs to be issued that people who engage in violence are not welcome.

When it comes to anyone entering the field of play – be they a supporter, mentor or some kind of hanger-on – and physically assaulting a referee or a player or another coach, they must be dealt with in the strongest possible terms. I’m talking about lifetime bans.

As a further deterrent, clubs and teams who fail to control their members should be punished appropriately. This should include expulsion from competitions for repeat offenders. As long as violent individuals are getting away lightly thanks to disciplinary action that doesn’t go far enough, these things will continue to happen.

GAA rule-makers have to get serious about the scourge of violence before referees pull the plug. Or before someone gets severely injured. Or worse.

I can’t help but feel as though our broadly lax attitude towards the laws of the game is a significant factor also. I’ve written this sentence on numerous occasions before so you may be sick of reading it, but I’ll stop saying it when it stops being true: so many rules in the GAA are so poorly enforced, you wonder why they bothered writing them down in the first place.

You have to hop or solo after four steps, but you can get away with seven or eight. You have to wear a gumshield, but you can tuck it into your sock. You have to be 13 metres away from the referee when he throws in a hop ball, but two metres will do. Managers have to stay off the pitch, but five yards over the line is grand. You have to make a clear striking motion when executing a handpass in hurling, but you can throw it too.

Whatever suits.

There is a culture of lawlessness in Gaelic football and hurling that I don’t think exists in any other sports of their kind.

It makes the games impossible to referee “properly” because every participant and observer has their own interpretation of what’s allowed. The referee can’t be right in everyone’s eyes if the rules have multiple nebulous interpretations.

So, with that in mind, should we be surprised that referees are getting it from all angles? Is it any wonder that people who should never even dream of entering the field of play feel as though they can?

Handing down proper punishments for violent attacks is really important but we must also have far more respect for the rules on a wider scale. No more half measures.

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