Unfair Play Out Today – Why Males Don’t Belong in Female Sport

2023-06-22 Reading Time: 8 minutes
Sharron Davies with the first copy of Fair Play, the book written with Craig Lord

Today is the day Unfair Play, by Sharron Davies with this author, arrives in bookstores, print and digital. We’re both proud of the intense work we put it but most of all the truths and messages the book conveys: males don’t belong in female sport, regardless of the way they wish to identify or lead their lives.

Unfair Play, by Sharron Davies and Craig Lord, out in June

Sharron Davies, the first swimmer home unassisted by banned performance-enhancing drugs in the 1980 Olympic 400m medley final, has been a leading voice for generations of female swimmers and other athletes denied their rightful rewards as a result of systematic cheating.

Bad enough that it happened, worse still, the IOC never found its moral compass on the issue and never took any action against rule-breaking and rule-breakers at the helm of an East German medals machine fuelled by Oral Turinabol. The victims were many but the damage was far and away more impactful in female sport, those harmed including athletes denied and robbed of status and lifetime opportunities as well as the East German athletes who, in a sport like swimming, were often around the age of puberty when they were first administered testosterone and related substances associated with male development.

Those girls and young women have often been written up as “cheats” by media, including niche media in swimming in the digital age until quite recently. As I pointed out to Swimming World through SwimVortex in 2014 at the umpteenth time of campaigning for justice and reconciliation for the female athletes caught up in the biggest heist in Olympic history, calling teenage girls “cheats” and talking of “stripping” them of medals simply makes victims of a form of abuse victims all over again and ensures two things: an IOC that digs a bigger, entrenched hole for itself and the athletes it claims to care about but doesn’t and a quiet life out of the spotlight for the real culprits, the actual criminals as well as the governors who turned a blind eye when they could and should have acted.

Enough people at SW got it and joined forces with SwimVortex to petition the IOC to reach for a reconciliation process and exorcise a ghost that Olympic bosses have harnessed themselves to (for eternity, as things stand). The petition attracted more than 9,000 signatures within the swimming community alone.

Other work at SwimVortex contributed to the reform process at FINA that led to a partial regime change and a new and most welcome direction. Equality, it appears, is no longer just the word and PR it was, while a willingness to address wrongs of the past that have left open wounds still weeping is perhaps the biggest shift in swim governance culture in the reform process so far. After 30 years of campaigning by this author, World Aquatics bosses president Husain Al-Musallam and director Brent Nowicki took my notes to the ruling Bureau and it was agreed that Dr. Lothar Kipke, convicted in the 1998-2000 German Doping Trials, of harming minors with banned substances, would have his FINA pin (award for services to swimming) taken away. One man, one move but a huge step.

What it means: ‘East German doping: ‘My father was heartbroken back then and the drug injustice still tortures him at 85’ – The Times (screenshot)

They also agreed that something could and should be done to address the injustices of that bygone era. The IOC remains entrenched in its view but that line will not, ultimately, be sustainable. You can read more on Sharron’s story, a big part of her motivation to campaign for the protection of female sport and get Unfair Play done and out there today, here:

The World Aquatics reform process is a work in progress at the rebranded World Aquatics: some old habits clearly die hard. Even so, there are several key reasons to be cheerful, such as the decision in June 2022 to essentially ring-fence the women’s category for female athletes only.

There are also a fair few reasons to be hopeful that better days of athlete welfare, equality, fairness, transparency, openness and a recognition that scrutiny, criticism and review are the friends not enemies of those who truly want swimming to grow.

Here on this day, it remains only for me to thank those who helped get Unfair Play published and run a short overview of what the book is about.

First up, thanks to Sharron for her trust, her dedication, courage, refusal to be silenced in the face of death threats, vile cancel culture moves in the shadows where the unknown and the unnamed lobby for folk to lose work, livelihood, status and voice because they don;’t want truth told, let alone for it to shape policy and the healthy environment of open debate and discussion that is an essential part of democracy.

Without the support and commitment of the team at Swift Press/ Forum, its publisher Mark Richards, Managing Director and Founder Diana Brocado and editor George Owers, and Caroline Hardman of Hardman & Swainson, we wouldn’t be here today with copies of Unfair Play. Heartfelt thanks to them and the team of copy editors, typesetters and designers we worked with and publicist Ruth Killick.

And last but anything but least, the women (and some men, too) who have voiced their concerns, called for Fair Play and safety and support for sex-based equality in sport.

Particular thanks to great athletes who endorsed the work, Martina Navratilova, Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Daley Thompson, to coach Linda Blade (Unsporting with Barbara Kay) and her tireless campaigning for female sport, scientists and researchers such as Carole Hooven (Testosterone) Emma Hilton, Tommy Lundberg, Jon Pike, Ross Tucker, Cathy Devine, Miroslav Imbrisevic and Leslie Howe.

They worked apart and together on such papers as this thumping and welcome response to ideology:

When Ideology Trumps Science: A response to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport’s Review on Transwomen Athletes in the Female Category

Then there is the work of members of organisations that have refused to be cowed by toxic attacks on their campaigns to have female rights upheld: Fair Play for Women, Save Women’s Sport, ICONS, the ICFS, the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, Champion Women, among others. And thanks, too, to Cate Campbell, Summer Sanders and the female athletes and athletes turned commentators, such as Karen Pickering, who backed their message for fairness at FINA Congress in June 2022, and the continuing efforts of Riley Gaines, Paula Scanlan and others in the U.S. who lived through the NCAA season that should never have been but highlighted precisely why.

And thanks to my wife and the family around us for the endless patience of decades…

Unfair Play – A Brief Overview

It starts with this: Olympic leaders say there’s no such thing as male advantage in sport. We had a a simple question for them: if that were true, why not just scrap sex-based categories of men and women altogether?

IWD2022 transgender men women
The advantages over women in sport of a transgender athlete who benefitted from male puberty can be seen off every wall and the splits down the lane line – image, cartoonized photo by Patrick B. Kraemer

We all know why. The answers scream from the book of Olympic results back to 1896. Citius, altius, fortius is correct: men are faster, go higher and are stronger than women. That’s why male swimmers race an average of 11 per cent faster than women across all events, why such advantages stretch to punches 160% more powerful in men’s boxing  than in women’s, and how such advantages mean that mediocre male athletes are rocketing up the rankings, winning prizes and taking women’s places on transition to a category they don’t belong in for one simple reason: whatever their feelings and life choices, they are biologically male.

Faster, higher, stronger – not better. Different. Human biology dictates it. In sport, sex matters, its binary and it governs safety and fair play at the gateway of sport. 

Without those two critical boxes being ticked, inclusion not only makes a mockery of sport but harms just one group: female athletes.

At the heart of a toxic debate in which female rights, science and the nature of sport have been shoved aside, trans activists have had the ear of Olympic leaders. They insist that there is no evidence to suggest males identifying as transwomen have unfair advantage in sport. That’s simply untrue. 

Errant guidelines have advocated the inclusion of transwomen in female competition, at the same time honouring the International Olympic Committee’s long-held tradition of throwing women under the bus. Sharron’s own experience highlights the ‘and how’ in all of that.

When the IOC says there is no evidence that transwomen have unfair advantages over females, it is ignoring the 18-peer-review studies showing that there is plenty of evidence that the vast majority of male advantage cannot be reversed through transition and there is no evidence that any male advantages can be mitigated to anything remotely close to fair play.

It’s partly why Sharron and I opted for the title Unfair Play, reflecting the largely irreversible male advantages that develop from the womb and go on overdrive at puberty when testosterone divides the sexes in a vast number of ways significant in sport.  The book sets them out and explains what Jake Teater at boysvswomen.com sets out so well: If you take the top 15-year-old boys in just the United States in a wide range of swimming and track and field events and overlay the best eight results over the top eight outstanding women in Olympic finals in 2016, less than a handful of women make a final and none get a medal of any colour. Again, it’s not because the boys are better than the women. It’s because they’re boys, with access to male hormones and development pathways that girls never have access to unless cheating is at play.

Sharron swam at a time of East German doping, when girls were systematically doped with testosterone from around the time of puberty because scientists worked out in the 1960s that if they gave girls a touch of what boys got, you were guaranteed gold and most of the other prizes too.

Olympic, World and European sports results of the 1970s ands 1980s are awash with injustice, the crime was confessed to as early as 1990, as we show in Unfair Play, yet the IOC has done nothing to address the biggest heist in sports history.

Those East Germans who thumped female opponents (many paying a price in health and wellbeing later in life) were, of course, female and hand-picked for athletic potential from a young age, so imagine having to face and race opponents who have had the full male-steroid boost from womb to manhood in their twenties before they self-identify their way into female competition and rocket up the ranks to a wholly new status in sport.

Sharron knew what it would mean the moment the IOC gave males identifying as women a ticket to female sport from late 2015 in a decision that had no impact until after the 2016 Olympic Games. This was the same organisation that had ignored pleas for justice for more than 30 years.

As Sharron put it in explaining why she was keen to campaign and get Unfair Play out there: “I was not prepared to let another generation of girls and women be thrown under the bus and see another generation of coaches, like my dad and his peers, be written off as being “not quite good enough” and ‘not hard-working enough’ when the truth was that we’d all been denied by unfair play.”

Rugby, swimming and athletics have led the way back to safety and fair play with rules that ring-fence the women’s category for females only, backed by the work off the scientists listed above, among others advising sports leaders prepared to listen. “Sports like cycling are lagging woefully and harming female riders by forcing them to face male advantage in almost every passing event right now. They’re forcing females to accept disadvantages,” says Sharron, who adds:

“Its affecting sport at all levels, from school and community to junior and development pathways, through elite and on to masters. Athletes, coaches and parents come to me very distressed. Parents don’t know how to help their children. I think we have to understand that this cannot be just about elite sport, because otherwise we ruin the pathway for young athletes to come through.

“I totally empathise with anyone that has gender dysphoria, and sport must be inclusive but safety and fairness have to come before inclusion. 

“Like the Suffragettes, today’s female athletes have been forced to conclude that the only way to halt a march on their rights is to openly object. Female athletes are starting to stand shoulder to shoulder as they realise there is immense power in working together to say ‘male advantage is real  – we are entitled to a female-only category in sport’. 

“After Strava, the sports results started including males in female events, some cyclists staged protest rides wearing t-shirts with “WOMAN” and posting results under an event category of “Woman Means Adult Human Female”. Similar things have been seen in Park Runs up and down Britain. 

“It is a response that sports authorities and event organisers can expect to keep growing until we get back to fair play. Ten British rowing women’s masters records are now in the hands of male rowers identifying as women. That’s not only unfair, it’s cheating in another name.”

Sport is stacked with categories. The Women’s group is not a colony for mediocre males. New categories are required to settle the dispute. An Open category is on its way in several sports, where those born male, whatever their life choices, compete with other males. That’s fair.

Unfair Play: The Battle For Women’s Sport by Sharron Davies & Craig Lord, Forum, £20. 

Also available at Waterstones, Amazon and other outlets

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