Chess, Trans Athletes, and Free Markets in Sports

Transgender athletes are becoming increasingly more common in athletic competitions, and this has spurred a great deal of criticism from the right side of the political aisle. Their argument is simple: men have a distinct advantage when it comes to sports.

This point seems self-evident given the immense amount of success most trans athletes (typically male to female) experience when they decide to change gender. CeCé Telfer, Mary Gregory, and Rachel McKinnon are a few examples of this in that they were all mediocre male athletes who are now, put frankly, dominating in their respective fields and setting world records in hurdling, weightlifting, and cycling.

Despite the seemingly obvious biological benefits that come with being a male athlete, many on the left side of the aisle still deny there is a relevant difference. In an audio interview conducted by National Public Radio, host Scott Detrow spoke with established geneticist Dr. Eric Vilain who believes that there simply isn’t enough evidence to suggest that men have a disproportionate competitive advantage in sports:

Well, on one hand, not having an indiscriminate ban suggests that the baseline for eligibility for all athletes, including trans athletes, should be inclusion. And I think that’s a good thing. And that’s actually what the International Olympic Committee has done in creating a framework for inclusion and fairness that’s based on the principle of no presumption of advantage. And if a category is going to be excluded, it needs to be based on evidence. The problem here with the exclusion on a case-by-case basis is that it is likely not to be based on evidence. Who’s going to undertake all the necessary research to demonstrate a disproportionate advantage, sport by sport, at so many different ages? Who will fund this? Likely not the school systems. . . .

The issue is we lack a lot of data, so we, in fact, know very little about advantages of trans girls and women athletes over their cisgender peers. That’s true in elite competitions. That’s true in school sports. . . .

I’ll end by saying that the larger question really goes beyond a simple competitive advantage. It’s whether there is a disproportionate competitive advantage between trans and cis athletes.

Aside from pushing a partisan narrative or reinforcing the party line, there is no good reason why Dr. Vilain, an accomplished geneticist, would say these things. The reason for this is that science has, in fact, provided quite a bit of evidence regarding the advantage male athletes have over their female counterparts.

What the research has shown is that men have a clear advantage when it comes to sports. For starters, men have larger and denser bones, which leads to an increased ability to support muscle mass, as well as an increased mechanical advantage, thus increasing their ability to perform tasks that require strength, speed, and power. Furthermore, men have a much higher VO2 max threshold. In other words, due to biological males having larger hearts than biological females, men’s bodies are much better when it comes to delivering oxygen to their muscles and tissues during exercise.

Now the reason these two disproportionate advantages are important to note is that neither has to do explicitly with testosterone, which is the typical go-to argument of antitrans activists. This is to say that, unlike testosterone, which can be increased or decreased via artificial means, bone density, and heart size are not parts of the body that doctors can alter. In other words, they are clear cut, and more importantly, unchangeable advantages that no amount of gender-confirming care can eliminate.

As this evidence shows, it is not fair for biological males to compete in female sports. With that said, however, more and more male-to-female transgender athletes seem to be making the decision to switch proverbial teams. In some states, this is being heralded as brave and heroic while in others it is leading to serious legislative crackdowns. So, what is the proper way to handle trans athletes while pleasing both sides?

Despite chess being a sport that no one really thinks about while discussing trans athletes, the International Chess Federation has recently found itself at the center of the debate by making the decision to “effectively stop allowing transgender women from participating in women’s competitions until ‘further analysis’ can be made.”

This decision, though from an unlikely source, may have exposed an answer to this debate that will make all of this trans athlete stuff, effectively, a nonissue. The reason for this is that chess has a unique aspect that most sports do not share. This aspect is an “open” section, which is a category in tournaments that allows both men and women to compete against each other.

Per the International Chess Federation’s decision, trans chess players will still be allowed to compete in these open sections, thus allowing them to continue competing despite their decision to transition.

Could this be the answer America has been looking for? Think about it.

People on the left argue that trans people are far more common than the average person realizes. More specifically, they say that the research suggests that 1.3–5 percent of the US population identifies as a gender different from the one they were assigned at birth and that this number is likely higher, but due to underreporting those people are still not being accounted for.

Of course, people on the right have and will continue to deny these statistics/assumptions, but they don’t want trans athletes competing anyway, so as far as the left is concerned, who cares, right?

Assuming that this argument is valid and there truly are this many trans people out there in the populace, well, when it comes to sports, why not just create open leagues? Wouldn’t this give the right what they want, biological men and women competing with biological men and women? Wouldn’t it also give the left what they want, a safe and inclusive place for trans athletes to compete?

The answer as to why we do not have open leagues is probably that there are not enough trans people to fill the ranks of these divisions, though the left will never admit it. But to be honest, this is an irrelevant and unconstitutional criticism of open leagues. You see, at the end of the day, the Constitution is all about protecting individual rights and free market principles. This, among other things, means protecting the right of women, who are disproportionately affected by trans athletes, to have fair and safe spaces. In addition to this, a free market operates via supply and demand. Therefore, if there are not enough trans athletes to support open sports leagues, well, then that is just, unfortunately, the way it is, and you don’t get to infringe upon women’s rights to remedy this.

In closing, sports are all about meritocracy. In a way, they are a perfect example of how a free market should work. This is to say that sports are driven by a supply of talented athletes who meet the demand of the population’s viewing preferences. Because of this, sports are highly competitive. This is why you don’t see five-foot-two people competing in the National Basketball Association or overweight people competing in the one-hundred-meter dash. So, if the integrity of sports is to be upheld while also protecting women’s constitutional rights, which would mean not allowing athletes who are born male to use their inherent biological advantages against athletes who were born female, the only logical solution is to leave things up to the free market by making a separate place for trans athletes to freely compete against one another. If you think this isn’t a feasible idea, well, chess did it.

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