June 22, 2022

Clearing the High Bar of Fairness in Women’s Sport

One of my favourite Youtubers is former multiple US 800m champion, two times Olympian and World Championships silver medallist, Nick Symmonds, also known as “The Bison” for his muscular frame and galloping kick at the end of a race.

Symmonds has carved out a great second career after elite athletics, with a hugely informative and entertaining social media presence, not to mention a great side hustle producing and selling a caffeinated chewing gum for athletes called RunGum. He’s funny, inventive and incisive.

And he’s got a huge following among young athletes in the States. So much so that when he advertises he will be in town (usually at a college track), local subscribers sign up to take part in his creative challenges and cash prizes.

A recent one, where he bought a roadside speed indicator to see if anyone could break 22mph over 100m was fun (he’d run 21mph and there was a hundred bucks up for grabs for the winner). There are some fast young runners out there.

His latest one was equally enjoyable, a high jump competition with 100 bucks for highest leap for both women and men. How did it fare? Let’s just say there are some interesting jumping techniques from up and coming track runners who’ve never landed on a jumping bag in their lives before.

But there were a few stand-outs. Particular among the men. One young, lithe black student from the college, long flowing dreadlocks in tow, sailed effortlessly over the lower jumps. His technique was fantastic. Obviously he was a trained high jumper because he was clearing the bar easily.

And so it got interesting, as one by one the other blokes were eliminated. Eventually he had the 100 bucks for safe keeping, but decided to keep jumping, to see how high he could go. Symmonds meanwhile was commentating and keeping the spice going. A whole lot of fun for an afternoon out.

And how high did he go, this young lad who will never have an athletics career, and of whom you will never hear of in any world event? He cleared 2:03 metres. Or nearly 6ft7. He didn’t try after that, because that was a PB, and you know, you gotta save something for the college track and field meet later in the season.

That jump won him 100 bucks, and a pair of wireless running earbuds. Oh, and the video has done nicely for Symmonds in the four days since he uploaded it, heading towards 400,000 views.

And if he’d been a woman? Well that jump would have won the silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s high jump final. And adulation and fame in Australia.

That’s right, Australia’s beloved Nicole McDermott, would have been pushed into the bronze medal position by that leap in a local US college by a no-namer young man in front of a YouTuber’s handheld camera.

Contrast that with the exhilarating night of track and field last year when millions of Aussies (and hundreds of millions of others around the world) were glued to their screens. Nicole’s leap of 2:02 was her PB, and was two centimetres short of the gold medal position.

Of course our young college lad never tried for 2:04 metres, or even 2:05, which would have given him gold at Tokyo. In that global event every competitor used all three of their jumps to try and take the glory, the tension racking up as they strained and failed to clear the heights and elimination beckoned.

Our bloke settled for his prizes, plus fifteen minutes of fame on the YouTube channel of a former US champion. Rest assured, he won’t be on the inspirational speaking circuit any time soon.

You see, here’s the thing. There’s a deep difference between men and women’s physiology that all sorts of processes and agents can mask or blur. Indeed the advances in technology have coupled with the progressive narrative of gender to say that there are no true distinctions, and that we can be who we so define, and that our self-definitions affect no one else.

Yet the fact is that’s a high bar to clear. And Symmonds’ video is proof of it. Sport – with its first-across-the-line, highest-over-the-bar reality-, has mugged the ideology that says a mere dialling down of testosterone by trans athletes competing in women’s events will level the playing field. It won’t. And it clearly hasn’t in swimming, as the Lia Thomas situation has revealed.

The battle raging around whose rights trump whose rights in the transgender sports debate should have been settled some time ago, if sports bodies had been as brave as the actual bodies – the female bodies – who were calling out for fairness. Even gold medallists are not safe from being scorched by activists in this whole area.

When the Sydney Morning Herald’s blowhard, Peter Fitzsimons, says that this is not an issue at all except for a tiny handful of elite athletes, and that it’s all a storm in a teacup, he’s proving that he is as unwise in his words as his wife, Lisa Wilkinson is, with hers.

Fitzy champions that other champion Keiren Perkins, the head of Swimming Australia, who has said that this only affects a very few athletes at the elite level. Fitzy then goes on to say that the vast majority of Australians are right behind Perkins, evidenced by the failure of Katherine Deves to win a federal seat at the local election, due in no small part to her harsh words around trans issues.

Fitzsimons doesn’t get it. Australians want fairness for trans people in Australia. And they want fairness for women in sports. And those are competing rights. And at the moment the weight of fear of reprisal is with the elite women athletes who speak out about this.

The bile count towards those athletes who call this out is far higher than what Katherine Deves was offering in the opposite direction. Martina Navratilova has endured all sorts of scorn and opprobrium for her statements around fairness for women in sport, though even she says she has not received the death threats others with less profile have.

Even the most famous male to female transitioner in the world, Caitlyn Jenner, who won Olympic gold as a man, sees the problem. And that’s causing him problems of his own. Is it any wonder lesser lights such as Cate Campbell are nervous?

If Fitzy thinks its fair, then invite him down to the local playing fields and watch as a young 13 year old male to self-declared female tears up the opposition in a footy match and take out best on ground. He might find a few Aussie mums and dads who are all for fairness having something to say to him.

Sport has made the issue visible in a way that domestic violence shelters and prisons have not. No surprises there. But when Fitzsimons nods his head and says that this is only affecting a small elite minority, and that most trans athletes never make it that far anyway, he’s clearly forgetting how sports works.

Fitzsimons says that participation in sport at all local levels should be on a come-one-come-all basis, and that true Aussie egalitarianism must allow male to female trans participation because that’s the progressive Aussie way that banished the Morrison Government to the opposition benches. Yet as a former international rugby star surely Fitzy knows that sports works well internationally for teams when the grassroots systems get it right.

And it works badly for international teams when the grassroots systems get it wrong. FINA was right to call this out now, because today’s nippers in the local pool are tomorrow’s elite athletes. One day you’re a tiny ten year old swimming in the local pool, seven years later you’re in the national squad.

Because, well, because puberty. And it does different things to males and females. My son is now 14, and has gone from the shortest person in the house to the second tallest in just six months (he’s taller than his sister and mum just in case you’re thinking I’m as vertically challenged as I am follicly).

And when do you say to the fifteen year old boy who transitions to a girl that he is not welcome to win every event in the women’s side of the competition and then head off to the nationals? Fitzy doesn’t seem to have an answer to that.

And leave aside swimming, let’s take Fitzy’s own sport of rugby for example. Perhaps the ten year olds are pretty much alike running around the park together, but the tackle of a fifteen year old boy on a fifteen year old girl may put her in traction. Where is egalitarian Fitzy now? Is he going to pay the medical bills? Sport works by athletes progressing through the ranks, and if you don’t put a stop sign in there somewhere, you are going to end up with one big mess at the top end of sport.

This issue has only just gotten out of the starting blocks. And that’s the other thing Fitzy doesn’t get. One or two trans athletes at elite level in 2022 does not equate to one or two at the 2040 Olympics. Why? Because today’s radical gender ideology is tomorrow’s norm. That’s how our progressive culture is working. In the same way that the grassroots kids of today are the elite athletes of tomorrow, the outlying one or two participants of today are the significant cohort of tomorrow.

And a significant cohort will ensure an equally significant cohort at elite level. Just give it time. With the explosion of gender identity issues, and the railroading of our culture towards affirm and celebrate “or else” there’s going to be a storm in a World Cup not just a tea cup at some stage. Someone’s rights are going to trump someone’s rights. That’s what you get in this zero-sum game Sexular Age.

The trans issue is not going away. There is a difference between treating every human being with value, dignity and worth, and simply going along with an ideology that says there is zero difference between a male body and a female body. No amount of ideology will mask that in the arena of sport. But with the explosion of males identifying as females, and females identifying as males, sports is going to get messy.

Well, for women at least. There will be no elite level female to male athletes because, well, because that’s a very very high bar to jump. Too high. What has made that bar so high? Reality. Physiological reality. And if women have to give way to men in order for physiological reality to be denied, then it would appear that many an activist is happy to go along with that. As is Peter Fitzsimmons.

Once again, women are paying the price for what men want. Or, if as I hope happens, they won’t have to for much longer. Yet as men, Fitzy and Perkins have left all of the hard work to the female swimmers, who now find that speaking up on this is more nerve-wracking than standing on the starting blocks in the gold medal swim.

This is not something to get angry about. Goodness knows there’s enough anger out there, and as a Christian it is my aim to be compassionate, caring and relational with those who are dealing with issues of dysphoria. But not at the cost of my convictions about reality. That’s just a bar too high.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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