On Tuesday, November 22, 2022, after weeks of deliberation that began at the PDGA Global Board of Directors Fall Summit in Augusta, Georgia on Thursday, November 3, 2022, the PDGA Global Board of Directors voted to update the PDGA Policy on Eligibility for Gender-Based Divisions at PDGA events effective January 1, 2023.
The following is a statement from the PDGA Global Board of Directors:
The PDGA Global Board of Directors recently met in Augusta, GA, for the 2022 PDGA Global Board of Directors Fall Summit. Among the topics at hand was the PDGA Policy on Eligibility for Gender-Based Divisions. Over the last ten months, the PDGA has studied the topic very closely. In January 2022, the PDGA announced the formation of a PDGA Medical Subcommittee on Gender-Based Divisions to gather data and review this issue. At that time, the PDGA also announced that the organization would use the IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations to guide its decision making process.
Topic review approach
In following this framework, the PDGA took several steps to study this issue. Section 6.1 of the IOC framework states that organizations should utilize peer reviewed research in determining if there is a disproportionate competitive advantage or a safety risk, which led the PDGA to form the Medical Subcommittee. Section 8.1 of this framework encouraged organizations to meaningfully consult with a cross-section of athletes who may be negatively affected, which is what drove the decision to conduct a survey of the membership.
The PDGA Global Board of Directors used the following information to reach a conclusion:
- The PDGA Medical Subcommittee report on Considerations for Women’s Sex-Restricted Divisions in PDGA Events
- Results of a survey of current PDGA members conducted as part of a university research study
- A survey of transgender disc golfers.
- A statement from the Disc Golf Pro Tour, the official pro tour of the PDGA.
- Feedback from several cisgender and transgender women who are touring professionals.
- Eligibility policies from different National Governing Bodies of other sports.
- Other position papers, academic research, and additional studies on this topic.
Medical subcommittee research
In August 2022, the PDGA provided an update to members reporting that “[t]he Subcommittee on Gender-based Divisions has been meeting regularly, and through collected research and data, has developed the framework for an early draft of a proposal, ultimately to be approved by the PDGA Global Board of Directors.”
The Subcommittee comprised seven experts with various medical (M.D.) and scientific (Ph.D) backgrounds to provide scientific feedback. The Subcommittee report was completed in October and delivered to the PDGA Global Board of Directors. The report strictly looked at published research on human anatomy, physiology and biomechanics. The report stated that safety issues were not applicable to the sport of disc golf, and the position of the PDGA should be to evaluate fairness and inclusion.
In part, the report stated, “Some researchers contend the outdated IOC guidelines, based chiefly on testosterone levels, failed to provide a level playing field for female competitors. For example, Hilton and Lundberg (2021) noted that ‘with regard to transgender women athletes, we question whether current circulating testosterone level cut-off can be a meaningful decisive factor, when in fact not even suppression down to around 1 nmol/L removes the anthropometric and muscle mass/strength advantage in any significant way’ (p. 211). General support for a roughly 5% reduction in strength after a year of testosterone suppression has been reported (Handelsman et al., 2018; Harper, et al., 2021; Roberts, et al. 2021; & Wilk et al., 2020). This 5% reduction may continue in subsequent years, although it is unlikely. This initial reduction in strength may be offset by transgender women maintaining irreversible (legacy) advantages in anthropometric measures and in the biomechanical benefits afforded by those anthropometrics. Further study may help to quantify these legacy advantages.”
The paper goes on to say that “The opinion of Shrier (2022) regarding the biological advantages afforded by men is supported by science and is worthy of consideration: ‘…effects of male puberty are profound, and they are permanent… more fast-twitch muscle fiber, greater upper-body muscle mass, greater lower-body muscle mass, greater bone density. They grant men a significant and unbridgeable advantage over women in nearly every physical contest. Even if a man later takes estrogen and artificially reduces the level of ‘bioactive’ testosterone in his body, he will not surrender these advantages.’ This stance is supported by anthropometric data and basic principles of biomechanics. It is also in agreement with the International Federation of Sports Medicine consensus statement that ‘Transwomen have the right to compete in sports. However, cisgender women have the right to compete in a protected category.’ (Hamilton et al., 2021, p. 1409)
The report concludes: “It is important to establish policies that are both inclusive and fair. In terms of fairness, no transgender person should ever be excluded. Thus, while it would be unfair for transgender women to compete against cisgender women, there would be no question of unfairness if transgender men or transgender women were to compete in the mixed divisions at any amateur or pro level, or in any age protected divisions that they are qualified for.” The Subcommittee took a straw poll and voted 7-0 to the following question, with 7 votes for No and 0 votes for Yes: Based on research and your professional training and experience, do you believe transgender women should be able to compete in the FPO division at all PDGA events? On the following question, the Subcommittee voted 5-2 to the following proposal, with 5 votes for No and 2 votes for Yes: Based on research and your professional training and experience, do you believe that transgender women should be able to compete in amateur female divisions at PDGA events with the exception of Majors?
The PDGA Medical Committee was sent the final Subcommittee report and unanimously approved it for submission to the Board of Directors.
A survey of PDGA members 18 years of age and older was conducted on October 5, 2022. The survey was reviewed by a university Institutional Review Board (IRB) to ensure adequate provisions to protect the privacy of participants and to maintain confidentiality of the data. A total of 35,901 PDGA members completed the survey, which represents a 32% response rate which exceeded expectations. 97% of respondents who started the survey completed it. The initial results of the survey indicate that competition level was likely a significant variable, although analyses are ongoing by university researchers.
In response to the statement “Transgender women should be allowed to compete with other women after gender affirming (hormone) treatment”, the following groups of PDGA members strongly disagreed or disagreed:
- 62% of all members
- 55% of amateur women
- 63% of professional women
- 75% of DGPT women
In response to the statement “Transgender women should be allowed to compete with other women in disc golf and in other sports”, the following groups of PDGA members strongly disagreed or disagreed:
- 67% of all members
- 55% of amateur women
- 68% of professional women
- 80% of DGPT women
Taking into account the conclusion of the Subcommittee, affirmation from the Medical Committee, relevant conclusions evident from the membership survey data and a review of peer reviewed research studies, the PDGA Global Board of Directors has voted to move forward with a new policy on transgender participation in gender-based divisions effective January 1, 2023. Major points of the policy governing the participation of transgender women in gender-based divisions are listed below:
- For PDGA Amateur Majors, Pro Master Majors and all other PDGA events sanctioned at A-Tier level and below the requirements regarding a player’s level of testosterone have been lowered from under 10 nmol/L for one year to under 2 nmol/L for two years.
- Players are only eligible to compete in the gender-based FPO division at PDGA Pro Majors (Champions Cup, USWDGC, European Open, and Pro Worlds) if they began medical transition during Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later. The player must also continuously maintain a total testosterone level in serum below 2.0 nmol/L.
- Organizations which are specifically designated by the PDGA under the terms of an explicit agreement to run Elite Series tours may use any set or subset of the eligibility criteria above at their events. Application of the chosen criteria must comport with the terms of their agreement with the PDGA.
The decision to change eligibility criteria at our events was not made lightly. The PDGA Global Board of Directors worked tirelessly over the last ten months to study this issue and debated and discussed this topic for 11.5 hours on the second day of the Fall Summit. After carefully reviewing ten different proposals, the PDGA Global Board of Directors voted to update the eligibility criteria for gender-based divisions. The PDGA Global Board of Directors cares deeply about the culture and history of the sport of disc golf. From the beginning, disc golf has strived to be an inclusive sport that welcomes people from all walks of life.
The PDGA Global Board of Directors values fairness and inclusion and will continue to evaluate and update this policy as additional science and data become available, and as additional sporting organizations around the world continue to look closely at this issue.
The PDGA Global Board of Directors categorically and unequivocally condemns the hateful and hurtful behavior directed towards members of the transgender community. While a majority of the PDGA Global Board of Directors has voted to move forward with new policy, that does not diminish our desire to be an inclusive sport. We encourage all of our members to treat members of the transgender community with love and respect, in keeping with our frisbee culture. Transgender women should be free to live their lives as they see fit, without fear of being attacked for who they are. In addition, baseless accusations that a member is misrepresenting their identity, or their eligibility are reckless and irresponsible. The PDGA appreciates the many transgender women who have reached out to the PDGA Medical Committee and who are abiding by PDGA policies.