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Why the AFL is right about Hannah Mouncey

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan launches the new Women's AFL league competition, at a launch in Melbourne, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)
Roar Rookie
23rd October, 2017
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The AFL has recently decided not to allow transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey to nominate for the 2018 AFLW draft.

Despite some strident criticism, the AFL has made the appropriate decision. It’s appropriate because, based on the evidence we currently possess, Mouncey would have had a clear advantage over other female athletes.

Many commentators seem to have disagreed with the AFL’s decision. The most popular criticism is that while Mouncey is barred from the AFLW, she can still play for an amateur league. As if this is some enormous disparity.

To begin with, what was the AFL to do? Ban her from everything? That ruins any chance she has of playing at all, at any level. Ever. This way Mouncey has the opportunity to build her skills before applying again in the future which I believe the AFL is very keen for her to do.

Furthermore, there are lots of things that happen in amateur leagues that do not happen in the AFL. They are amateur for a reason. Sure, there is a disparity but as the players are not paid, the inclusion of someone with a clear physical advantage does not have the same impact as it would on a professional competition with a financial benefit to the winners.

Some commentators responding to the decision have suggested that Mouncey does not have a clear physical advantage. An example of one of these pieces was an effort by Richard Hinds entitled ‘Hannah Mouncey deserved more than the AFL’s policy on the run‘ published by the ABC.

In the article, Hinds suggest that a comment made by Dale Sheridan, a transgender woman and lawyer, is particularly eloquent. Sheridan writes “Mouncey’s physical attributes simply make up the range and diversity in women.”

Sure, there are some players in the AFLW who are as tall as Mouncey. There are also some players who are comparable in weight. There are no current players who are comparable in terms of both height and weight. It’s erroneous and tremendously unhelpful to suggest otherwise.

It’s so unhelpful because it’s not just about height and weight. Overall muscle density is an important factor as is VO2 Max. The presence of increased testosterone provides a clear physical advantage for these factors.

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Another point those critical of the AFL’s decision like to make is that Mouncey is no longer producing the same level of testosterone as she was previously. In fact, she is well within the guidelines stipulated by the AFL. This completely disregards the fact that she has had levels of testosterone well above the guidelines for much of her life and that this will provide a clear physical advantage for some time.

Just consider what would happen if a 13-year-old male took artificial testosterone for five years. The athlete benefits from the increase in testosterone. Then, they stop taking the supplements at 17. They go to the draft at 18. What would happen? Well, if caught they would be labelled a drug cheat. Because it’s widely accepted that increased testosterone provides a significant advantage.

In effect, Mouncey has had increased testosterone, relative to a cisgender woman, for over 20 years. I’m not for a second suggesting she is some kind of drug cheat. That would be silly. But suggesting that 20-odd years of increased testosterone would not provide a clear physical advantage to an athlete is also silly.

Cate McGregor, a high-profile transgender woman commenting on this issue, is on the record as saying “You’ve got the be realistic about this; Hannah is 190cm tall and weighs 100kgs. She is a gifted athlete; she is physically powerful, I am immensely sympathetic to Hannah but I think you have to be realistic in a high-impact, physical sport like AFL. There is going to be the odd occasion where someone does suffer because they are too gifted.”

She also noted that “the AFL has left the door ajar. The longer she is on oestrogen, as she ages, her physical power will diminish and her musculature will change as well. It may well be at that point it is a more level playing field.”

It’s a very sensible position from someone who has undergone the process herself.

By allowing her to reapply in future years, the AFL has given Mouncey time for her body to adjust. There is little doubt her body will change and when it does, Mouncey will get her chance. It also avoids setting a precedent which could in the future be exploited.

Just imagine what might happen if a 19-year-old 200cm, 110kg ruck-forward with a background in a local league decides to transition. She applies to the AFLW draft at 21 years of age. If the AFL had said yes to Mouncey now, how can they say no to someone like that in the future? They couldn’t. A person like that would absolutely dominate the AFLW. It would not be good for the game.

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Lastly, the science around this is constantly improving. It’s possible Mouncey will provide the exact feedback required for the AFL to make an accurate long-term judgement on the parameters required for transgender athletes to compete in the AFLW.

In this way, Mouncey can have a profound impact on the sport she loves both off the field, and hopefully on it eventually.