Why Ian Thorpe Needs To Go Back To Dolphin School On Fair Play & Women’s Sport

2022-11-18 Reading Time: 4 minutes

EditorialIan Thorpe and journalism let themselves down badly this week in a short, lazy and bewildering interview that appeared in various places, including The Guardian online. The Australian Associated Press file delivered the news that the swim legend thought FINA had got it wrong on trans inclusion.

A reminder for those who don’t already know what happened in June and the build-up to a watershed decision that rebooted Fair Play in women’s aquatics:

Before addressing Ian, let me note how embarrassing for journalism the AAP file is. A couple of points:

  • the use of the word ban is highly misleading. No-one has been banned from swimming in the trans debate. Trans women have simply been told that there will be a category for them in the very near future after that vote in June delivered the same message FINA rules have long delivered to me and many others: “Sorry Craig, we realise you’re getting on and not quite the swimmer you used to be many moons ago but kindly step down from the blocks, we have a nice cup of hot chocolate waiting for you in the rest room; this race is for 12-year-olds (some of whom may well kick your ass, but that’s not the point!)”
  • we all make mistakes but the AAP report is particularly sloppy on a very contentious topic in which accuracy and deeper understanding are critical. The report as published by The Guardian fails to challenge Ian on several inaccuracies in the words he is quoted as having said. Examples include the wrong number of transgender athletes to have competed at the Tokyo Olympics; and the clear implication that FINA did not consult scientific and other experts before making its decision and voting in June. It did – and the evidence of that was and remains there for all to see as world-class experts line up alongside Cate Campbell and Summer Sanders (who delivered their own fine speeches) to present the reasons why they felt women’s sport should be ring-fenced for female athletes. Why women should not be forced to face and race male advantage in any form. There’s an assumption in some quarters of journalism that when interviewing anyone successful at something, the interviewee will obviously know what’s what and provide sound and reasonable insight. Many do – but the journalist should never assume that – and they should do their homework before any interview! If they have no time, then at least check the facts when transcribing the interview!

Meanwhile, I haven’t asked Ian directly – but have done so on Twitter – about what might have motivated him to lean towards misogyny and a lack of respect for his own former teammates, the female dolphins who now swim for a country he once excelled for and the millions of women around the world who are not ‘transphobic bigots’ as they often get labelled, nor anti-trans or anything close to it.

They simply want their rights upheld, including the provisions for Fair Play and a ban on discrimination in the rules and charters of Olympic sport.

Ian’s sexuality and understanding of the struggles he went through may well guide him towards support for what is often described as an oppressed minority in terms that suggest the challenges that trans people face can only be eased if the rights of others are sent to the bottom of the ocean with a ball and chain round their collective ankle. Two dark places do not turn the light on.

Delivering unfair male advantage to female sport is bound to harm others. No human right has a right to do harm to others. Male advantage in female sports harms female athletes, their coaches, the parents and communities that support them – and that at every finishing point through the ranks, gold to falling shy of a qualification target that’s been set artificially high because male advantage has put women on a conveyor belt beyond their natural curve of progress. Think about it. We understand the ripple effect. It’s very much the same whether its positive or negative impact.

Which is why, when I saw the fine points being made by Mara Yamauchi, author, former elite marathon runner (2:23:12!), two-time Olympian, running coach, commentator and Japanese speaker, I retweeted with the following thread:

There is nothing more to say at this point. Ian Thorpe knows better – and if he doesn’t, then he should set aside some time to read up on a subject before talking to journalists who haven’t done their own homework either.

There are many opinions in the trans debate but when it comes to male advantage in female sport, we must deal in science and fact. And the fact is that the vast majority of male development that differs radically from female development is irreversible and cannot be mitigated by hormone therapy, surgery, feelings, nor magic nor myth.

If sport is stripped of Fair Play, starting with categories based on biological sex, then sport is dead. And keep in mind that none of that threat is ever felt by men’s sport; it’s just the death of women’s sport we’re talking about.

An added thought:

Ian might care to start his journey to deeper understanding with a flick through “Unsporting” by Dr Linda Bland and Barbara Kay.

Quick background: Linda was world-class in pentathlon. The QT for the Olympics in ’88 was raised 3 months out from the Games at a time when doping had its foot firmly on the gas and standards were on unnatural fast forward. Old target met, Linda missed out on the new one because that foot on the pedal belonged to Mr. Male Advantage in the form of ambassadors in tracksuits being abused by their state. No male boss in Canada wanted to listen. Until they got to Seoul, where they hoped to bask in the reflected glory of … oops… Ben Johnson. Sorry Linda, and all those back to Nancy Garapick, Cheryl Gibson and Co. We mucked up … again!

Give me generations of Linda Blades over every athlete who ever warped sport through cheating. Unnatural male advantage has a terrible impact on men’s sport – and is catastrophic in female sport – regardless of whether it comes from a syringe or puberty.

You know what unsporting looks like, Ian. Please give it more thought.

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