‘Women have to compete with women’: Putin wins support on transgender athletes
High-profile sporting figures have backed Vladimir Putin after the Russian president warned that women's sport is under threat from the current rules on transgender athletes.
The debate around transgender athletes has proved an increasingly contentious one, not least since the International Olympic Committee's new guidelines, issued in November, appeared to allow transitioned competitors to compete against rivals born as women without reducing their testosterone levels.
Rights campaigners claim that athletes should have the freedom to compete under the gender they align themselves with, while critics – including the parents of college competitors who have watched a transgender participant smash records in the US in recent weeks – have said the current rules are unfair.
In his annual media conference on Thursday, president Putin said he was concerned that women's sports could disappear if men are allowed to declare themselves women.
Putin appeared to refer to Laurel Hubbard, the weightlifter who transitioned as an adult and competed at the Tokyo Olympics for New Zealand, by saying: "A man declares himself a woman and competes in weightlifting, let’s say, or some other sport.
"Women’s sport will cease to exist. There has to be some kind of common sense.
"I support a traditional approach, where a man is a man and a woman is a woman. Mum is mum and dad is dad."
2006 ice dancing Olympic gold medalist Tatiana Navka said she "absolutely agreed" with Putin.
"It will be an unfair sport if a man competes with women," the two-time world champion told RIA. "Then all men will wear skirts and say that they are women. I really would not want this to be the case in figure skating."
The issue has been sharply visible in the US, where numerous bills to outlaw transgender school and college athletes have been passed and others have been rejected.
Speaking before the Games, Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and science director, backed Hubbard’s right to compete, saying that "everyone agrees transgender women are women."
"But it’s a matter of eligibility for sport and particular events, and it really has to be very sport-specific," he added.
Legendary figure skating coach Tatiana Tarasova evidently disagrees with those assertions. "I am in solidarity with Putin," she told the outlet.
"They can change anything they want but women have to compete with women, men with men.
"You can call yourself a girl but if you were a man, then there is nothing to be ashamed of. Men have another completely [different type of] power."
Hubbard was eliminated at the first time of asking at the Games, where Canada footballer Quinn became the first transgender athlete to win an Olympic medal.