University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas prepares for the 500 metre freestyle at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, March 17, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. PHOTO BY JOHN BAZEMORE/AP PHOTO

Lawsuits could be the answer to unfair, trans-inclusive women's sports

By supporting the admission of biological males into female sport, the NCAA and IOC are enabling cheating worse than blood doping

These two things are true, and everyone associated with elite sport knows them to be true: i) males who have gone through puberty (and even before to a measurable degree) are biologically advantaged over females in sports that demand speed, power and endurance; and ii) taking testosterone will provide an advantage to women competing against other women, but lowering testosterone will not erase the advantage of males who compete against women.

The only sport stakeholders who deny these truths are ideologues, or those who lack the integrity to support facts over ideology-based theories. It is wrong, but understandable, that coaches with their livelihoods on the line will comply with policies they know are unethical. But it is not understandable that mega-associations responsible for national and international regulation, such as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), or the International Olympic Committee (IOC), should abet the erosion of sport’s very foundation — a level playing field — by setting policies that deny or minimize immutable biological differences between male and female athletes.

The admission of biological males into women’s sport is a form of cheating, no different in ethical turpitude from doping, which, we once assumed, would be the greatest scandal ever attached to elite sport. This is worse. At least then, no sport bodies ever publicly affirmed that cheaters’ right to dope should be privileged over clean athletes’ right to fair play.

Former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, who set a British record in the 400-metre individual medley at the Moscow Olympics in 1980 that remained unbroken for two decades, is today a passionate advocate for protection against penetration of the women’s category by male athletes. In her 2023 book, Unfair Play: The Battle for Women’s Sport, Davies chronicles her own battle to persevere in her sport, despite her loss of medals to doped-up East German women. Her sense of injustice remains acute. Without the doping, she would have had Olympic, European and World Championships as companions to her two Commonwealth golds.

It’s a riveting, but sobering read. Everyone knew about the doping, but the IOC wouldn’t take action. It went on in plain sight for decades. In all Olympic Games between 1968 to 1988, doped women won more than 75 per cent of all gold medals in athletics and swimming, and a staggering 92 per cent of all European titles at the continent’s championships between 1973 and 1989. (At the Montreal Olympics in 1976, East German officials dumped all their leftover serum and syringes — 10 suitcases full — in the St. Lawrence river.)

Davies and her female peers were forced to remain shtumm during their careers. This time around, female athletes have realized relatively early it’s up to them to be the grown-ups in the room.

A lawsuit filed by 16 athlete plaintiffs, the first federal action of its kind in the United States, organized by the Independent Council on Women’s Sport, has been launched against the NCAA, with the objective of annulling the right of biological males to compete against female athletes, and of retroactively “reassign(ing)” medals won by trans athletes in women’s competitions. It also asks for “damages for pain and suffering, mental and emotional distress, suffering and anxiety, expense costs and other damages due to defendants’ wrongful conduct.”

The lawsuit cites former University of Pennsylvania student, trans athlete Lia Thomas, who before transitioning, ranked middle-of-the-pack in men’s swimming, then owned the women’s podium at the 2022 NCAA swimming championships. The event’s hosts, NCAA and the Georgia Institute of Technology, are accused of knowingly violating Title IX, a section of the federal education statute guaranteeing equal opportunity to both sexes in college sport. According to swimmer and activist Riley Gaines, who tied with Thomas in the 200-yard freestyle in 2022, the NCAA “undermines everything that Title IX was created to protect.”

As for the IOC, last month 26 researchers in this domain — including the most chevroned: Tommy Lundberg, Ross Tucker and Emma Hilton — published a peer-reviewed study, arguing against the IOC’s 2021 framework for “fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations.”

The framework rests on the ludicrous and demonstrably faulty principle that there should be “no presumption of advantage” when male athletes compete against women. In the IOC’s view, there would presumably be no advantage to U.S. champion swimmer Ryan Lochte over his female teammate, Missy Franklin. Both are six feet, two inches in height, with a six-foot, four-inch wingspan, and both won Olympic gold in the 200-metre backstroke. But Lochte’s best time was 11 per cent faster than Franklin’s. Male puberty conferred that advantage.

The study illuminates the IOC framework’s complete indifference to the opinions of female athletes concerning their own category. For example, the IOC position states that the athletes “most directly impacted by eligibility criteria” are trans athletes and athletes with sex variations, but “remarkably,” makes no reference to female athletes as stakeholders.

The IOC’s attitude trickles all the way down to amateur sports: Five trans-identified males are currently participating in the Flying Bats Football Club, a women’s team in Sydney, Australia. The highest goal-scorer is reportedly a male trans activist who injured two female players last year. In their last tournament, the team won every game they played, including one 10-0 victory. At least 20 women have now quit the league because they are expected to play the Flying Bats.

Who is “most directly impacted by eligibility criteria” in this scenario? The triumphant trans athletes? I’ll go with the injured women, plus all the women on the teams who scored zero. Not to mention the female athletes on the winning team who know they won unfairly. And let’s not forget every young girl who watched these sport travesties and said, “This is not for me.”

Since the IOC has fully abdicated its duty to ensure sport fairness, let’s hope the landmark case against the NCAA is successful. It’s our best hope for saving women’s sport. In fact, make that just plain “saving sport.”