Tifanny Abreu made volleyball history when she became the first transgender woman to dress up for one of Brazil’s premier Superliga teams. However, her record breaking performances with Vôlei Bauru has been the topic of discussion all over the volleyball community about how fair it is for a trans woman to compete with cis women.
In Brazil. the discussion has also drifted from the sports field to the political battlefront, as the country is set to undergo its presidential race in only a few months, with progressives supporting Tifanny’s playing, while conservatives are calling her to be removed from the court.
Below, we have gathered quotes and opinions from volleyball experts and players that had a say on the matter in the Brazilian media (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4):
Joana Harper is an American academic that researches the presence of trans athletes in elite sports. A trans woman herself, she acts as a consultant to the IOC and believes that future legislation will not prevent Tifanny from competing with women:
“I was on the committee that recently suggested to the IOC to reduce the maximum allowed testosterone level from 10 to 5 nmol/L. Tifanny’s level is 0.2 nmol/L. We did no make any other significant recommendations. I would be very surprised if the IOC made changes beyond those our committee recommended, and it is extremely unlikely that the it will make any changes that would prevent Tifanny from playing.”
Tifanny’s coach, Fernando Bonatto, confessed in an interview that he did not expect Tifanny’s signing to draw so much controversy
“I’ll tell you the truth, her signing was something that just happened organically, it had nothing to do with a marketing plot or anything like that. She was coming off a serious hand injury and we knew we’d have a lot of work to recover her. We did not think the signing be so controversial to hire her, but we worked within the laws, respecting the clubs, the IOC, CBV and FIVB.
First things first, we treat Tifanny with respect. The human being needs to be respectful and that is how we behave to all players. It is not us who will decide whether Tifanny can play or not with women. Doctors will study and assess the issue. I will not discuss exams. Today she meets all the requisite requirements. Regardless, she is brave and pioneering woman who stood her ground and sais she wanted to be a woman. That’s really good.”
João Grangeiro, Coordinator of the Brazilian Association of Volleyball Medical Doctors (we were very surprised to find out such an organization existis), which responds directly to the Brazilian Volleyball Federation (CBV), was responsible for signing off on Tifanny’s right to play. He says that for now, CBV is strictly following the IOC’s rules, even though he himself thinks Tifanny has clear advantages over her peers:
“Our Volleyball Medical Committee has followed what is recommended by the IOC. However, I think its directive lacks improvement and this is our expectation with regard to the IOC. The FIVB has already said it will review it. We need to observe from a scientific point of view the impact the differences of a trans athlete’s organism has on the game. Simply limiting testosterone values seems to me very inefficient. Even with hormonal control, Tifanny seems to me to have an advantage. She’s scoring a lot. We can not say how strong she is. How much more speed and power has she lost? This was not measured, it was not quantified. I think you need to quantify these things. She is undoubtedly at an advantage.
“She is allowed to play because she is within the rule. The rule exists and we obey it. But this is a subject that is still discussed in the sporting environment. It is not exhausted. Athletes should also express themselves because this is the way, that of debate.”
Likewise, two famous sport physiologist of São Paulo share Granjeiro’s opinions:
“We have to take into account her physical background before hormonal treatment. She certainly benefited from testosterone until the time of surgery and hormone treatment. Of course that when she underwent the treatment, she lost some of the benefits, but not evything. So if you compare her to an athlete who was born a woman, there is no denying she has an advantage.” – Turíbio Barros
“A few years is not enough to mitigate Tifanny’s 30 years of ample testosterone in her body. The advantages are numerous: bone density, musculature, thousands of specialized cells. One year that will reverse this. It is a situation that needs to be better discussed. Tifanny was a below average player in the Men’s Superleague, and now she is above average in the Women’s Superleague.” – Altamiro Bottino
Tandara Caixeta, who just had her Superliga single game scoring record smashed by Tifanny the past week, also commented her opinion on whether it is fair for her to play with cis-women, and whether she thought Tifanny was not playing up to her full potential as to not raise any more controversy:
“I respect her story, for society it is very important, to spearhead such a movement, she is a person I respect a lot. However, as to her playing with women, it’s a tricky subject. I did some research on the subject, talked to a lot of people about it, and I believe I have gathered enough evidence as to not agree with her playing in women’s volleyball. We need to be able to differentiate prejudice, bigotry, and phisiology. Tifanny developed as a male. Her lungs are bigger, her heart is bigger, her hips are smaller, so it’s much easier for her to jump.
I had a sensation that at the beginning of the game, she was holding back a little, trying to hit the ball more with skill than with force. But when the decisive moments of the game, she came out much stronger.”
Meanwhile, Tifanny herself is caught on the cross-fire. She has repeatedly stated on interviews that she will not let the discussion affect her playing:
“I am very at ease with the situation. I got a clear conscience. Until the FIVB and the IOC allows me to play, I will do so happily. If things change in the future, I will respect the decision and look for another job, like any woman, with no problem whatsoever. But at the moment, the law is on my side. I am where I am because of my talent.”
It doesn’t look like the controversy will end any time soon. The IOC is set to review its regulations on transgender athletes’rights after the 2018 Winter Games.