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February 09, 2024 | In The News

Women’s Sports Are Under Threat at Every Level—Including the Olympics | Opinion

NEWSWEEK Less than five months from opening ceremonies for the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, a cloud hangs over the summer games. Will biological males be allowed to compete for and win women’s medals?

The threat is not hypothetical. Last month, it was revealed that swimmer Lia Thomas has initiated legal action that, if successful, would allow Thomas to seek a spot on the U.S. women’s national team that will compete in Paris this summer. Thomas might be the most famous recent example of males seeking access to women’s competitions, but the swimmer is not alone. In 2021, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard made history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete in an individual event at the Summer Olympics. Others will surely follow.

Once a rare occurrence, today trans-identifying males are attempting to enter women’s sports in alarming numbers. Just last month, a male golfer placed first at the NXXT Women’s Classic in Florida, and is now on track to someday join the LPGA tour. At the high school and college levels, instances of males competing in women’s sports abound. It is only a matter of time before more such athletes seek spots on their country’s national teams.

Unfortunately, like almost every organization forced to confront this burgeoning issue, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is attempting to pass the buck. In November 2022, the IOC issued guidelines that effectively transfer responsibility for determining eligibility to compete in women’s events to sport-specific governing bodies. Notably, the committee urges these bodies to craft rules that prioritize “inclusion.”

The IOC seems to have missed the point: competitive sport is not supposed to be inclusive. Quite the contrary; “the essence of sports categories is exclusion,” evolutionary biologist Carole Hooven has noted. “If you’re 20 years old, you are excluded from participation in the senior category, because of your natural advantages…. The female category is no different.”

Physiological differences between males and females give men athletic advantages that are quite obvious in physical capacity sports like swimming, weight lifting, and track and field. In head-to-head sports, the inclusion of men not only puts women at a significant disadvantage, it is also quite dangerous. There seems to be a new story every week of a biological female being physically injured by an opposing male player, whether through physical contact or a propelled ball that reaches velocities unseen in girls’ competitions. In the name of inclusion, we are putting our girls at risk of serious injury.

As two of us can attest, making an Olympic roster is incredibly competitive. Of all the talented athletes out there, few get a chance to participate in the Olympic games. And for every trans-identifying male who is “included” on a women’s roster, a female athlete is asked to stay home. Just ask Roviel Detenamo, a young New Zealand weightlifter who lost an opportunity to become an Olympian and compete in Tokyo when Laurel Hubbard (a male weightlifter who identifies as a woman) was allowed to compete on the women’s team. Hubbard may have finished last in the over-87-kilogram women’s division, but Hubbard’s participation was not without cost to women.

So, how have sport-specific governing bodies responded to the IOC’s call for inclusion? Many still have no official policy. Others simply require males to provide documentation of “sincerely held” gender identity in order to compete as women. Others, like USA Boxing, make male participation in women’s events and teams dependent on whether the athlete has medically transitioned and suppressed their naturally circulating testosterone to certain levels. But as research collected by Independent Women’s Law Center and Independent Women’s Forum demonstrates, even male athletes who have completed years of hormone therapy maintain a significant athletic advantage over their female peers.

World Aquatics, the organization that Lia Thomas is suing, currently allows male athletes to compete in the women’s division only if they transitioned before the age of 12 or before one of the early stages of puberty. But even that rule fails to level the proverbial playing field since males who have artificially stopped puberty still can’t create for themselves athletic disadvantages unique to women (such as menstrual cycles and less joint rotation). Thomas claims that the World Aquatics policy is discriminatory. But what’s actually discriminatory is allowing any male (even a hormonally impaired male) to take a woman’s spot at the Olympic games.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) have introduced the Protection of Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which would prohibit any governing body recognized by the U.S. Olympic Committee from allowing biological men to participate in any female athletic event. We are grateful for their leadership. But female Olympians shouldn’t be forced to defend the integrity of the female sporting category in country after country and in sport after sport. The rules should be consistent and clear, and they should come from the top. It’s time the IOC said “no” to men in women’s Olympic events once and for all.