The Class Action World Athletics Should Fear As Storm Amelia Joins The Weather Girls To Stop It Raining Men In Women’s Sport

2023-01-24 No comments Reading Time: 7 minutes
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Male advantage is real in swimming ... and an Open category is on the way - image, cartoonized photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

Editorial – Plaudits started to roll in for Amelia Strickler the moment the British shot put ace chucked a couple of heavy balls at World Athletics governors she wished had grown a pair before making discrimination against women their “preferred option” on transgender inclusion.

Guardian reporter Sean Ingle wrote a fine analysis (complete with a signpost to the failure wrapped up in the success of a Court of Arbitration ruling) of how World Athletics boss Seb Coe and cohorts might now miss the final, let alone the podium on Fair Play.

January 2023 finds them tripping over Lord Coe’s commitment to science and fair play for women. He made it only last autumn but it already seems as though the excellent stance by World Aquatics (FINA), backed by a sea of experts and the voices of female athletes last June, is all a stride too far for track and field leaders.

Instead of making space for inclusion, athletics bosses have made invasion their preferred option with a mantra of “men, as you were; women, move over for biological males who think they know what it feels like to be a woman”.

A win-win for men. A déjà vu of ages.

That “preferred option” comes down to this: self-ID, two years at T level <2.5, a range that might keep transwomen and differences in sex development (DSD) cases in line with each other on a discredited count but remains well outside what nature provides for women.

The Fallacy Of T

The detail might as well read ‘blah, blah, blah’ because it’s nonsense, as we pointed out some while ago when highlighting the excellent explanations of Dr. Ross Tucker, World Rugby’s Chief Scientist, when he talked of the “Fallacy of T”; and again when urging Lord Coe to “drop testosterone nostalgia”.

To the reasons Dr. Tucker cites for never using T levels to decide whether its fair to have males in females sport add this from SOS in 2019: the waking nightmare is up and running, cycling, swimming and on the move in a wide range of sports at various levels, community and school, through college to elite and even in the realm of masters past their prime but still going strong and hoping to test themselves in fair, sex-based-category sport.

That waking nightmare is the ghost of East German doping. Never exorcised, it now comes back to haunt as the research and living experiment the International Olympic Committee forgot, or at least wished we’d all forgotten about.

In short: girls at the age of puberty were given a touch of what boys get from nature at puberty (enough testosterone to trigger male development). Dominance followed in sports like swimming (and track and field and…). Much was written down, young girls most specifically targeted because gold is guaranteed when you add male strengths to female competition. It was all as simple as the outcome was horrifying – and catastrophic for generations of women, both sides of the Cold War in sport.

Not enough research. It’s a common and pernicious excuse for allowing transwomen (biological males) into female sport so that we can have another couple of decades of live experimentation in women’s sport. Truth: there’s a stack of evidence and its grown since we followed Dr. Emma Hilton on her trail of the research the IOC seemed to suggest didn’t exist.

The library is rich in resource when it comes to understanding what happens when male development is let loose in female sport. It includes volumes of science, research and record-keeping that the IOC failed to act on, the very evidence that led to criminal convictions in the German doping trials of 1998-2000: the truth Olympic bosses turned a blind eye to back then and continue to do so to this day.

The Tipping Point

Now add Exhibit A, 1966 to 1989, to Exhibit B, 2015 to 2023 (so far). For those with eyes to see, it’s clear that if World Athletics sticks to its preferred option, it will place itself on a war footing with women. The result may well be a much bigger storm than the legal challenge suggested as track and field’s best excuse from Sean Ingle’s piece.

Forget the $1m bill for the Caster Semenya case at CAS. Think instead of the cost of a global class action for discrimination against women, accompanied by a boycott in which sports bosses are left to explain to sponsors and fans why there are only men, in a variety of identities, at the races.

Ah – but the women won’t do it, I hear some of you sigh as you point to all the reasons why athletes have so often put up with the bad to have their good shot on a given day after years of hard work. It’s understandable. It needn’t be the trap athletes allow Olympic sports bosses to set for them.

Take tipping points. We’re at one – and we’re drawn ever closer to it by the collective power of women the world over who are no longer prepared to accept “men, as you were; women, move over”.

Image courtesy of ICFS

We’re not just talking sport and female athletes but a whole sorority from many walks of life gathering around groups such as the International Consortium of Female Sport (ICFS) and its member organisations Save Women’s Sport, Fair Play for Women, Champion Women, the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, ICONS and Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights.

They’re the gathering storm, a growing force that’s not going away. The campaigners include lawyers, human rights experts, human development biologists, kinesiologists, Olympic medallists such as Sharron Davies, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, coach leaders such as Dr. Linda Blade, a former athlete (and all three are among those who lived through and were impacted by the days of the GDR) and many others with specific armouries and tool kits useful for the battle ahead.

In response to the Telegraph article and a headline summing up Amelia Strickler’s stand – “If nobody speaks out about transgender athletes, women like me are screwed” (sub-head: “- “I hope more of us band together to prevent this because it’s going to be the end”), the ICFS sent the athlete a note of thanks for her truth and courage. The letter also points to the legal war sports authorities are getting ever closer to, the one where they won’t be taking on the <1% but the 50% of female athletes and humanity:

World Athletics & The Danger In Its “Preferred Option”

Along the same line of Sean Ingle’s thought, Dr. Jon Pike noted on Twitter:

Spot on. But that also runs counter to the theory that World Athletics is minded to make what Sean calls “fudge” the environment in which women must compete because its worried about legal challenge from DSD cases (perhaps even TW).

Well, maybe there will be but all of that would be knocked into a cocked hat if women harness the spirit of the Suffragettes, stand together and cite Gandalf to a Balrog as they scream ‘You shall not pass!’.

World Athletics has handed women two more key arguments for any legal battle that may follow: 1, the “preferred option” includes that clear admission that the federation knows it is allowing male advantage into female sport but is happy to allow that discrimination and damage to fair play; 2, Kafka’s Watchman.

“I ran past the first watchman. Then I was horrified, ran back and said to the watchman: ‘I ran through here while you were looking the other way.’ The watchman gazed ahead of him and said nothing. ‘I suppose I really oughtn’t to have done it,’ I said. The watchman still said nothing. ‘Does your silence indicate permission to pass’?”

Franz Kafka, The Watchman, Parables and Paradoxes (Parabeln und Paradoxe). Photo: Watch Tower – by Craig Lord

Yes. But not only silence is at play here. Active support for male advantage in female sport is a reality of the women’s category because of the IOC’s failures and the weakness of followers who’d rather sign up for Omertà than raise a red flag in support of women in sport. If anyone doubts that, I refer you back to the days of the GDR and ask you: what happened next?

The truth is that sports authorities from the IOC downwards know very well what happens when a touch of male advantage gets a ticket to female sport. They know, too, that there are excellent reasons why categorisation in sport has long started at the two gates marked men and women, based on sex not identity.

World Aquatics showed the way for others in Olympic sport but naysayers have never let up since the vote came in last June to ring-fence the women’s category for females only and tell all those who have lived through Tanner Stage 2 of male puberty that they can either compete in the men’s category (just as many transmit chose to remain in the women’s category for the purpose of sport) or they can compete in an Open category when the details of that have been worked out ahead of an announcement due this July.

For World Athletics, it’s not too late. An announcement is due in March. Lord Coe says that athletics is still listening to the voices of women. Few hold their breath, for reasons cyclist Inga Thompson noted in response to a tweet from the BBC’s Dan Roan.

Will they drop a discredited and costly policy of measuring T levels and opening up more loopholes for rogues to climb through? Or will they do what ought to be so simple: back women, back fair play, find a model of inclusion that does no harm, including a policy that addresses the DSD dilemma in a way that balances fair play and inclusion? As Lord Coe put it himself only last autumn:

“There is no question to me that testosterone is the key determinant in performance … If you look at the nature of 12– or 13-year-old girls, I remember my daughters would regularly outrun male counterparts in their class, but as soon as puberty kicks in that gap opens and it remains … Gender cannot trump biology. As a federation president, I do not have that luxury. It is a luxury that other organisations not at the practical end of having to deal with these issues have. But as far as I am concerned, the scientific evidence, the peer-reviewed work we have done, those regulations are the right approach.”

Lord Coe. Photo: Red warning in sport – by Patrick B. Kramer

How right he was. But his words have not been matched by deeds at World Athletics. Time to lead, come what may.

Whatever lawyers may be telling World Athletics, the words “follow in swimming’s slipstream” ought to be ringing in the ears of decision-makers because … a, it’s the right thing to do, for all concerned; and b, whether in court or through boycott, winter and war are coming to Olympic sport if that is no longer a home for female athletes who insist on fair play.

The opposite of that is Unfair Play, the title of the book I’ve had the pleasure of working on with Sharron Davies, whose personal experience in sport guided her on a quest for sport to be a safe and healthy place for every female from grass roots all the way up to Olympic Heights. Our book is out in late spring – you can pre-order in various places online.

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