Imagine that you are a top administrator at a track meet and you notice that in the 17-year-old category there appears to be a boy running in the girls’ race. What course of action would you take? Well, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), your approach would depend upon what year you noticed such a thing.
Pre-2003, you would have simply explained to the athlete that it is not permissible for a boy to compete against the girls. The boy would be instructed that in the future, he should be racing with the boys.
After 2003 (Stockholm Consensus), you would have had to determine if the boy had undergone some sort of sex change surgery at least two years prior to the race and had legal recognition as a girl. This set a tough standard for a male wishing to participate in a female race, and transgender advocates felt that the IOC was being was too rigid.
Well, the IOC wanted this problem to go away, and so by 2015 they made it a lot easier. At that point, this boy would have had to self-declare that he “identifies as a girl” and “then lived as a girl for at least a year” (whatever that means), while ensuring that his testosterone level (T) was 10 nmol/L or below throughout that time. (Note: 10nmol/L is low for men but still many times higher than the maximum testosterone level allowed for women, which is about 2 nmol/L.) No surgery was to be required.
There was no real way for anybody to check 24/7 as to whether this boy was keeping his T level down throughout that year. And there was no scientific evidence to determine whether the selection of T concentration at 10 nmol/L was the appropriate level that could ensure “fairness” in the race.
As we know now from research and observation, the 2015 IOC consensus could not in any way eliminate the enormous male biological advantage that this boy would be bringing to the race. In the years following 2015, many examples could be found that revealed the immense unfairness of this approach; the Connecticut high school controversy being one of the most prominent.
Those concerned with fairness in women’s sports were alarmed and began speaking out in greater numbers. Organizations like Fair Play for Women (UK) and Save Women’s Sports (U.S., New Zealand, and Australia) arose to question the IOC’s thinking. In 2021, my own book was published on this topic (written in collaboration with journalist Barbara Kay), titled "UNSPORTING: How Trans Activism and Science Denial are Destroying Sport."
It all came to a head with the participation of Laurel Hubbard (New Zealand) in women’s weightlifting at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo (which took place in the summer of 2021). The world finally got to see what it looks like to have a male competitor in a female competition, and the public found it to be absurd. IOC medical director Dr. Richard Budgett had to admit that the 2015 IOC consensus on transgender participation was “not fit for purpose,” according to The Guardian. But in making that statement, he stuck to the ideological line that “trans women are women.”
The truth is that “trans women” are, by definition, male-born individuals who identify as women but can never become biological females. This need not be an insulting statement; it is why they are called “trans women” instead of “women.”
Having adopted the trans activist line of discourse, the IOC needed to somehow find a way to make its eligibility guidelines more protective of the women’s category, while at the same time not “triggering” trans activists. So little was the IOC focusing on the plight of the female athlete and so greatly on placating the gender ideologists that, in the aftermath of Tokyo, it went out of its way to not consult with women across the globe who were advocating for sex-based eligibility criteria.
To the profound disappointment of sex-based advocates, the 2021 version of the IOC eligibility guidelines (announced on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021) amounts to the complete abandonment of women’s sports.
In the new 2021 IOC eligibility guidelines, titled "IOC Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations," males who wish to self-identify into female competition no longer require testosterone suppression or surgery. Furthermore, inclusion in the female category will be automatic unless a sports official finds a way to decide if the male participant has a “disproportionate advantage.”
The boy in our example above can now assert: “It’s my human right to be in the girls race and the Olympic guidelines say that you are not allowed to exclude me from this race until you do a scientific study to prove that I have an advantage that is beyond acceptable.”
Unfortunately for sports administrators, the IOC offers no means to assess what is “disproportionate” or which of the thousands of physical variables is to be measured or assessed to determine this boy’s unacceptable advantage. Nor will the IOC be offering any financial funding from its vast reserves to help undertake such a study.
And why would the IOC go down this path when the results of such an inquiry would arrive months after the race, offering no immediate cover for allegations of “hate” that will inevitably come its way for even suggesting that this boy might be out of line?
One can foresee sports administrators and officials abandoning any attempt to enforce the biological boundary.
The entire point for having the women’s category in the first place arises from the distinction between male and female biological sex that gives males a physical advantage, categorically and overwhelmingly. But now in 2021, as an IOC official suggested in the Nov. 16 IOC news conference, it is not up to sport associations to define “woman.”
Essentially, then, the 2021 IOC position is that eligibility rules must be “fair” to women, but no sport should presume to define what a woman is.
What a shameful display of cowardice and confusion!
Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter says: “The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, color, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status.”
Biological sex is on this original list. And even though we can all agree that the category “male” has “disproportionate advantage” over the category “female,” the IOC is now apparently so fearful of running afoul of gender ideology that it is no longer willing to acknowledge that allowing a male person to compete against females is discrimination on the basis of sex.
Speaking of principles, the IOC could have avoided this predicament completely if only it had upheld Principle 5 of the Olympic Charter, which demands “autonomy” and “political neutrality” in maintaining IOC “freedom from outside influence” in establishing its own rules for sports.
We are now seeing what happens when the IOC violates its own charter and permits its functionaries to be captured by ideology. Sadly, it’s the female athlete who will be paying the price by participating in Olympic sports that are no longer fair nor safe.
Linda Blade, PhD (kinesiology) has been a Canadian track and field champion and NCAA All American (University of Maryland Terps 1985 team captain). She spent 25 years serving as a sport performance professional coach in Edmonton, Alberta, educating athletes on fundamental biomotor skills, from beginner to elite, in more than 15 sports.
Editor's Note: This piece originally appeared on the Family Research Council.