The 14-time Finnish women’s fencing champion was defeated by a transgender competitor from the USA, sparking outrage last week.
“On Sunday at the 2023 FIE Veteran Fencing World Championships, Kocab got past 14-time Vet World champion Marji-Liisa Someroja of Finland to win her eight titles,” according to an article from USA Fencing.
“The win marks Kocab’s eighth individual world championship and fourth in a row: 2018 and 2019 in the 60-69 category and 2022 and 2023 in the 70+. (There was no Vet Worlds in 2020 or 2021.)”
Elizabeth Kocab, a biological male who formally went by the first name Greg, will compete on the USA women’s team, along with five other athletes, for one more shot at gold, according to USA Fencing.
The news has sparked a wave of controversy regarding Kocab’s participation in the women’s division, prompting prominent women’s sports advocate Riley Gaines to speak up in protest.
“Winning a title as a male in the women’s category doesn’t make you a champion,” Gaines wrote. “It makes you an entitled cheat.”
Also speaking out was Marshi Smith, co-founder of the Independent Council on Women’s Sports.
“This man will retire as one of the greatest women’s fencers of all time because @FIE_fencing and @Olympics made female fencing a joke,” Smith said.
The updated USA Fencing transgender and nonbinary athlete policy allows biological males to compete in the women category with few restrictions.
“As such, athletes will be permitted to participate in USA Fencing sanctioned events in a manner consistent with their gender identity/expression, regardless of the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth in accordance with the guidelines listed below,” the policy states.
“Athletes being treated with testosterone suppression medication, for the purposes of USA Fencing-sanctioned competitions may continue to compete in men’s events,” the policy continues, “but may only compete in women’s events after completing one calendar year (12 months) of testosterone suppression treatment.”
USA Fencing only requires a letter from medical personnel as proof of compliance with the hormone policy. The organization has also admitted no regular testosterone or hormone testing is performed on the athletes.
Meanwhile, many other sports organizations have banned biological males from competing in women’s categories regardless of testosterone levels, including World Aquatics and the International Chess Federation.
However, Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Fencing, has voiced strong support for the rights of transgender athletes.
“It is critical that we protect the rights of nonbinary and transgender athletes in fencing,” Andrews said according to the Washington Examiner. “Even as we plan to conduct more scientific research into the physiological effects of gender transition as they pertain specifically to the sport of fencing, we remain unanimously and steadfastly supportive of transgender athletes having their place in fencing. … To be clear, even as this issue evolves, our support of transgender athletes will not waver.”
One anonymous female fencing competitor says the policy is “unfair, ill-thought, and short sighted” and should change.
“Women and girls not only deserve fair competition, they deserve the right to feel like they could win,” the anonymous competitor said. “Stacking odds against us at the start is incredibly disappointing.”