U SPORTS, the governing agency of post-secondary athletics in Canada, introduced a new policy concerning transgender athletes on September 27th that will allow athletes to compete on teams that correspond with their gender identity. The new policy was developed by the U SPORTS equity committee and approved by the U SPORTS board of directors.

U SPORT stated in a news release that the policy will take effect immediately for its member institutions. Among these institutions is the University of Toronto.

According to the news release, “effective immediately, U SPORTS student-athletes will be eligible to compete on the team that corresponds with either their sex assigned at birth or their gender identity, provided that the student-athlete complies with the Canadian Anti-Doping Program.”

The new policy does not require student-athletes to undergo hormone therapy for them to compete in the gender category that is consistent with their gender identity.

The news release explained that the decision comes amid a 2016 report published by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES). The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity also provided feedback in policy development.

Andrea Carter, Assistant Dean, Student Wellness, Support & Success, described UTM’s position regarding the policy change in an email to The Medium, stating, “The University of Toronto Mississauga and the Department of Recreation, Athletics and Wellness applaud U Sport’s policy allowing equity, diversity and inclusion in athletic sport opportunities for student athletes.”

Carter says that while UTM and the Varsity Eagles are not members of U Sport, she hopes that the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) and the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association (OCAA), the regulatory bodies overseeing UTM Varsity Sport Competitions, are “inspired” by the policy announcement.

“As a department and a campus, we believe it is important for student athletes to participate visibly and fully in a way that is consistent with their gender identity.” Carter continued. “We continue to work with CCAA and OCAA to advocate for safe, inclusive environments in sport opportunities.”

At UTM, student-athletes have expressed mixed reactions to the U Sport policy. The Medium interviewed two student-athletes at UTM to discuss the recent policy change.

Azza Adhoum, a third-year varsity athlete on the UTM Women’s Soccer Team, told The Medium that her initial reaction to the policy decision was concern.

“The policy seems extremely unfair,” Adhoum told The Medium. “Biologically, males and females are different. Gender is a societal construct, but sex is not.”

Adhoum explained that in her opinion inherent differences between males and females provides reasonable grounds for her stance.

“From conception forward, male and female bodies develop differently,” she added. There are hormone differences, the onset of puberty, anatomical dimensions, all of which contribute to performance differences between men and women.”

“With this policy, [I think] a majority of athletes are put at a disadvantage.”

Aaron Peters, a third-year athlete on the UTM Men’s Soccer Team, told The Medium  that he neither agrees nor disagrees with the policy change.

“Personally, when that whistle blows and I’m on the field and you are my opposition, I will compete at the highest level possible regardless of your gender, sex, or sexual orientation. After the game though, I will gladly shake your hand and go on with my life.”

Peters elaborates that the mentality he, like many other athletes uphold, is that sport focuses on self-improvement and personal achievement.

“I’m here to compete against the best and win, nothing else. I’m not concerned with who I’m playing against.”

When asked about whether he believes the policy change would alter the level of fairness in university athletics, Peters concluded that U SPORT’s decision would have no impact.

“If you’re skilled at your sport, then you’re skilled at your sport. If you are dominating the university game, then you obviously need to be playing at a higher level, regardless of your gender.”

Peter Donnelly, professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education and Director at the Centre for Sports Studies, says that the new U Sport policy will provide a fair opportunity for athletes to participate in university athletics.

“It is my view that U Sports has developed a progressive and enlightened policy based on the best available scientific evidence which indicates little to no performance advantage resulting from testosterone levels.”

“Given that the way sport is organized (on a binary gender basis), and given that biology shows that, rather than being binary, human sexual characteristics lie on a continuum, the U Sports policy of basing eligibility to participate on an athlete’s gender identity brings U Sports into line the most fair and viable policies now being implemented in sports organizations.”

When asked about the potential implications of U Sport’s policy, Professor Donnelly affirmed that the changes would only level the playing field “for the few athletes who are likely to be included under this new policy. It is possible that there will be other implications, but I am not prepared to speculate on what they may be.”

U of T Professor Bruce Kidd, also the former Principal at the University of Toronto Scarborough and a former Olympian at the 1964 Tokyo Games, shared his insight regarding the U Sport policy in an email to The Medium.  Professor Kidd was also a member of the Expert Group that helped the CCES develop their 2016 report.

“After exhaustive research, the Expert Group found that ‘we currently lack the scientific evidence to directly and consistently connect endogenous hormone levels with athletic performance. (P. 20)’,” explains Professor Kidd, citing the 2016 report by the CCES.

“We also acknowledged that the science is still growing, so we added the provision that: ‘Hormone therapy should not be required for an individual to participate in high-performance sport … unless the sport organization can prove that hormone therapy is a reasonable and bona fide requirement. (P. 18).’”

Professor Donnelly and Professor Kidd are both in agreement over the landmark significance of U Sport’s policy update. Donnelly says that he is not aware of any other policies implemented elsewhere that “meet the standards of fairness, scientific evidence, and viability” akin to that of U Sport.

“To date, I know of no sports organization that has convincingly demonstrated that hormone therapy is a reasonable and bona fide requirement,” adds Professor Kidd.

UTMAC did not respond to the The Medium’s request for comment on the new policy.

The policy will be taking effect immediately and permit athletes who identify with a gender other than their birth sex to participate on the team of their identified gender.