Women’s sports are under threat at every level—including the Olympics

Women’s sports are under threat at every level—including the Olympics

Jocelyne Lamoureux, Monique Lamoureux, and Jennifer C. Braceras

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

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

Once a rare occurrence, today trans men are trying 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 one day join the LPGA Tour. At the high school and college levels, instances of men competing in women’s sports abound. It is only a matter of time before more such athletes claim places in their country’s national teams.

Unfortunately, like almost every organization forced to deal with this growing issue, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is trying 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. In particular, the committee asks these bodies to draft rules that prioritize “inclusion”.

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

Olympic ring
The Olympic rings are displayed near the National Stadium where the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were held in Tokyo on April 21, 2023.

Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP/Getty Images

Physiological differences between males and females give males athletic advantages that are quite evident in endurance sports such as swimming, weightlifting, and track and field. In head-to-head sports, the inclusion of men not only puts women at a significant disadvantage, but is also quite dangerous. There seems to be a new story every week of a biological female being physically injured by an opposing player, either through physical contact or a driven ball reaching unprecedented speeds in girls’ competition. In the name of inclusion, we are putting our girls at risk of serious harm.

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

So how have sport-specific governing bodies responded to the IOC’s call for involvement? Many of them still do not have an official policy. Others simply require men to provide documentation of “honestly held” gender identity in order to compete as women. Others, like USA Boxing, make men’s participation in women’s events and teams dependent on whether the athlete has medically passed and suppressed his natural circulating testosterone to certain levels. But as research compiled by the Independent Women’s Legal Center and the Independent Women’s Forum shows, even male athletes who have completed years of hormone therapy have 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 female category only if they passed before the age of 12 or before one of the early stages of puberty. But even this rule fails to level the proverbial playing field since men who have artificially interrupted puberty still cannot create for themselves athletic disadvantages unique to women (like menstrual cycles and less joint rotation). Thomas claims that the World Water policy is discriminatory. But what is really discriminatory is allowing any man (even a hormonally impaired man) to take a woman’s place at the Olympics.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) and Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) introduced the Protecting Women in Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which would ban any recognized governing body by the US Olympic Committee by allowing biological males to participate in any female athletic event. We are grateful for their leadership. But Olympic women should not be forced to defend the integrity of the women’s sports category country by country and sport by sport. Rules must be consistent and clear, and they must come from the top. It’s time for the IOC to say no to men in women’s Olympic events once and for all.

Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux are women’s ice hockey Olympic gold medalists, 2-time Olympic silver medalists and 6-time IIHF World Champions. Jennifer C. Braceras is founder of the Independent Women’s Law Center (iwlc.org) and Vice President for Legal Affairs at the Independent Women’s Forum (iwf.org).

The views expressed in this article are those of the writers themselves.