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The International Olympic Committee fails women again

Christiana Holcomb | It found a way to make a bad policy worse


Laurel Hubbard competes in a women's weightlifting event at the 2020 Olympics. Associated Press/Photo by Seth Wenig

The International Olympic Committee fails women again
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After two years of deliberating about how to make the Olympics fairer and more inclusive, the International Olympic Committee has decided to make it more unfair for women to compete and win on the international stage.

The IOC recently announced that it is doing away with its previous testosterone suppression requirement—a policy that had been in place since 2015—and will now allow the governing body of each sport “to determine how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage against their peers, taking into consideration the nature of each sport.” Consequently, the IOC is moving toward allowing more biological males to compete in the women’s category, depriving women of opportunities, a safe and fair playing field, and eventual medals on the world stage.

Previously, the IOC required males who identify as female to meet a testosterone level below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months in order to compete in the women’s category.

The IOC’s old testosterone suppression requirement was itself grossly inadequate—multiple studies have shown males continue to hold large physical advantages over females, even when suppressing their testosterone. A male’s muscular advantage is only minimally reduced when testosterone is suppressed, and males are still 12% faster than their female counterparts after two years of feminizing hormones. Curiously, the IOC’s prior testosterone suppression threshold was still at least five times higher than naturally occurring testosterone in females.

By its decision to rescind its own testosterone suppression standard, the IOC is admitting the policy’s shortcomings. On that, we can agree. The prior policy was nearly useless in terms of creating a fair or safe athletic environment for women. But at least it posed some small barrier to males competing in the female category.

Now, the IOC has removed even that ineffectual barrier. Instead of using its deliberation time well, acknowledging the real physical differences between men and women, and enacting commonsense safeguards for women’s sports, the IOC punted the decision to each sport’s governing body. Women and girls will pay the price for this cowardice.

It doesn’t take two minutes, let alone two years, to determine that biological sex is the leading driver of athletic advantage between athletes. As Duke Law School professor and former elite track athlete Dr. Doriane Coleman said, “The evidence is unequivocal that starting in puberty, in every sport except sailing, shooting, and riding, there will always be significant numbers of boys and men who would beat the girls and women in head-to-head competition. Claims to the contrary are simply a denial of science.”

The IOC is denying science and biology—effectively denying base reality. Though males have a well-documented 10–50% performance advantage over comparably fit and trained females depending on the sport, the IOC claims it can’t find “the solution to this big question which is out there.” What about the common sense solution we’ve used in elite sport for decades: restrict the female category to biological females? The whole point of having a separate category for women and girls is to ensure fair and safe competition for females.

The IOC can’t pat itself on the back for its “inclusion” when excluding women will be the result of its policy.

Now, it is up to the governing bodies of each sport to stand up for women and against a cultural tide pushing them to conform to a policy that will harm women and destroy the entire category of female sports. Thankfully, multiple governing bodies have recognized the reality that males have an unfair advantage and present safety concerns if they’re allowed to compete in the female category, including the UK Sports Council Equality Group and World Rugby. Many others should join them.

The IOC should have had the moral courage to follow suit. Instead, the committee caved to a few radical voices.

While the IOC’s decision was disheartening, it wasn’t surprising. Nearly every day we are witnessing the chaos and real human cost that comes from ignoring God’s good, purposeful design in creating each one of us male or female. Even on the athletic field, true human flourishing starts with embracing that good design.


Christiana Kiefer

Christiana Kiefer is legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom.

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