Ipswich Olympian Karen Pickering calls for women's sport to be protected

Olympian Karen Pickering is calling for protections for female athletes 

Olympian Karen Pickering is calling for protections for female athletes - Credit: Archant

A former Suffolk Olympic swimmer has weighed into the debate about trans athletes by calling for an ‘open’ category to be created for sports people who do not identify with their assigned gender at birth. 

Karen Pickering, who swam for Ipswich Swimming Club after moving from Sussex aged 17, wrote in a column for The Sunday Times that there should be a ‘protected category’ only for competitors who were born female to ensure fairness. 

Instead, she proposed creating an open category that ‘would be a safe place for everybody, whatever their gender and wouldn’t inhibit anyone’s rights. But it would protect women’s sport.’ 

She was reacting to the controversy surrounding American trans athlete Lia Thomas winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle to become the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion. 

Karen Pickering, who won World, European and Commonwealth Games medals

Karen Pickering, who won World, European and Commonwealth Games medals - Credit: Archant

Her nearest competitor, Emma Weyant, finished in second place, 1.75 seconds behind. 

In her Times article, the Olympian, who won four golds at World Championships, along with European and Commonwealth Games medals, said there were ‘scholarships, places on teams and on podiums’ at stake for female athletes if they could not compete in a ‘fair’ race. 

She also addressed the concept of testosterone suppression, by which levels of the male sex hormone testosterone are reduced to enable birth males to compete in women’s sport. 

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The hormone is responsible for the development of male genitalia, as well as increasing muscle and bone mass. 

But she said reducing testosterone levels would not negate the effects of puberty on the male body. 

“A female is not just her testosterone levels. We are more than that,” she added. 

She also questioned whether the governing bodies of some sports were doing enough to protect 50% of their membership. 

“There are ways to achieve inclusion in grassroots sport. I would like people to be able to live how they choose to live and identify as whatever and whoever they want to, but in elite sport, I still believe in a female category. 

“There is a reason why a protected category for women’s sport was created, the same as for different age groups and different disabilities,” she added.