Gender’s place in CIS sports

Recent IOC policies may have effects on university level sport in Canada

Caster Semenya (left) sparked talk on gender identity of athletes in 2009.
Caster Semenya (left) sparked talk on gender identity of athletes in 2009.
Supplied by Erik van Leeuwen via Wikimedia Commons


When it comes to gender identification in Canadian university athletics, two boxes predominantly remain: Men’s team, or women’s team? 

For athletes who identify outside of the binary divide of man and woman, finding a space in the athletic world can be a taxing  ordeal.

The CIS board, which governs Queen’s athletics, doesn’t have a policy addressing non-binary, gender-fluid or trans athletes, nor where they should or can identify in order to compete.  

However, following the Jan. 24 announcement of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy on transgender participation, this may soon change. 

Amongst other guidelines for transgender and transsexual athletes, the IOC policy eradicates a surgical requirement to compete. 

Trans men can now compete “without restriction,” and trans women must solely prove that their testosterone levels are below 10 nmol/L for 12 months before competition. 

In the wake of the announcement, Tara Hahto, CIS Manager of Compliance and Eligibility, said that the CIS has begun to rethink their lack of policy on gender identification. 

“Generally what we do in the sports world is really align with all of the other bodies of sport,” she said in an interview with The Journal. 

This realignment helps ensure an athlete competing under CIS, who’s potentially of Olympic or international calibre, doesn’t face different rules when rising in competitive level. 

However, while the CIS sorts out their own policy on trans participation, Hahto says gender identification is an “institution-by-institution process,” meaning Queen’s identification system is left up to coaches and athletic administration.

When contacted, Queen’s Athletics and Recreation declined to comment on their policies, saying there wasn’t anyone available to speak on the matter at this time. 

Contentious discussions surrounding sports and gender identification aren’t a novelty. High-profile incidents, such as the 2009 gender-test of Caster Semenya, upon her outing as intersex, have made headlines worldwide. 

Meanwhile, boards such as the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CAA) require transgender athletes to show documentation of one year of hormone therapy to compete on their level.

Dr. Mary Louise Adams, a Queen’s professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and the Department of Sociology, has an academic focus on athletic experiences with sex, sexuality and gender.

“[Sports are one of the] key institutions in our society for reproducing and advertising normative understandings of sex and gender,” Adams wrote in an email to The Journal.

She added it’s becoming increasingly clear that a neat divide between body parts and their associated genders doesn’t work for everyone.  

“Misunderstanding and discriminatory attitudes around gender variation have made sport a difficult space for many transgender and transsexual people,” she wrote. 

Queen’s openly transgender Minister, Ruth Wood, said students grappling with questions of gender identity already experience a great deal of “inner turmoil” — and that’s without considering a question of athletic identity. 

“Being different in any way is hard in a society that places a high value on conformity. I don’t think it is fair for us to put an additional barrier in someone’s way [in sports],” she said. 

Rather than waiting for an individual to fight for change, Wood said athletic boards, whether intramural or inter-university, should be taking a lead on educating themselves about the issue. 

However, it’s not simply a matter of creating policies to allow self-identification, as Wood said gender-neutral facilities in athletics are critical, and single showers and change rooms would be a welcomed step. 

“While some transgender people are perfectly comfortable using the facilities designated for their felt gender, others are not,” she said. She added that this extends beyond trans athletes to those seeking privacy for personal reasons. 

“In the end, whether we are transgender or cisgender, we all need to be true to who we are if we are going to grow up to be who we are meant to be,” she said. 

“Students who do not fit into the gender binary may also be passionate about a sport, and should not be denied the opportunity to take part in it.”


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