The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group is a bipartisan think tank composed of champion athletes, coaches, lawyers, writers, and sports administrators who have dedicated much of our careers to addressing sexism in sport.
Since 2019, when we began meeting to discuss the phenomenon of male athletes who identify as trans and want to compete against women, our position has evolved – based on our discussions, on scientific research, and on the changing environment. Here’s an updated position as of July 2023.
Ways Our Position Has Not Changed
- We remain dedicated to affirming and strengthening girls’ and women’s legal right to separate, safe, single-sex sports competitions – a right that is logically and legally justified because of immutable biological differences between women and men. By contrast, gender identity is a mindset or feeling based on a person’s belief and can change over time. Such feelings and beliefs do not meet the immutable-characteristic standard required to compete in the category set aside for female athletes. [i] [ii]
- We remain committed to a middle ground by encouraging equitable and inclusive accommodations for males who identify as women; gender-fluid; and nonbinary athletes – so long as those accommodations do not diminish females’ competitive opportunities, financial rewards, nor their right to fair, safe, separate sports.
- We support laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity (in housing and employment, for instance) – except when such laws would reduce girls’ and women’s sex-based rights. Sex-based rights include separate sports competitions, separate locker rooms and restrooms, and separate accommodations during overnight travel.
- We advocate for sports opportunities for all.
- We collaborate with national and international organizations that share our values and goals – thus expanding our resources and amplifying our message. We also collaborate with and educate national and international governing bodies such as World Athletics, World Aquatics, and the NCAA.
The promise of Title IX has not been realized, more than 50 years after its inception. High school girls are provided one million fewer sports opportunities than boys. NCAA institutions would need to provide women an additional 198,094 sports opportunities to match the same ratio of collegiate opportunities that are offered to men.[iii] Every year, women lose out on over one billion dollars in college athletic scholarship dollars.[iv] These numbers do not reflect second-class treatment of women when it comes to facilities, coaching salaries, travel, healthcare, trainers, equipment, recruiting, publicity, and other benefits of athletic programs.[v] New Name, Image, Likeness monies are already being distributed unequally, in an unlawful manner. Our efforts to change these grim statistics for girls and women remain ongoing.
Against this backdrop of ongoing sex discrimination, we cannot now allow more sex discrimination: male athletes who identify as transgender taking participation slots or scholarship dollars or prize money that rightfully should go to females.
Ways Our Position Has Changed
We Now Recommend That All Men Who Identify as Transgender Compete in Men’s or Open Categories.
Initially, we hoped to accommodate boys and men who identified as transgender under the women’s sports umbrella. We believed that males who had gone through puberty but later underwent hormone therapy for a minimum of a year, keeping their testosterone level under 5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L), could, at least in some sports, sufficiently mitigate their legacy male advantage to compete fairly with females. But the scientific evidence now indicates that no amount of hormone therapy or even surgery can mitigate the legacy male sex advantage – which begins not at puberty, but at birth.
We progressed to thinking that perhaps male athletes who transitioned after puberty could participate on female teams during practice, meetings, travel, and social activities (the social construct of sport) – and then compete in a separate category. The legal justification for a separate female sports category – relevant physical and physiological differences between the biological sexes – would be preserved. The accomplishments of trans athletes would be respected and valued just as other categories of athletes – such as lightweight rowers and athletes with disabilities – are now. Biological differences – along with differences in gender identity, race, culture, religion, and sexual orientation – would be accepted as natural human variations.
We now realize that this solution would only have potential in a world with unlimited resources, because adding any males to a women’s team would subtract a spot reserved for women. So that solution would not be fair – or safe.
- We now recommend that males compete in a men’s category or in a renamed open or mixed category that would accommodate men and anyone else who is not female.
- We also support new, separate affinity events – such as the Gay Games and the Maccabi Games – which would be based on personal and cultural identities or affinities.
- We also encourage sport leaders to consider categories for both males and females who identify as transgender. Otherwise, men are likely to win two of the three categories. For instance, when the Boston Marathon created a nonbinary category in 2023, it was won by a biological male (Kae Ravichandran). Of the three main categories – male, female, and nonbinary – biological males won two. This is likely to be the case in future events that offer nonbinary categories – because males possess performance advantages over women, which is why the female category exists. Unless organizers offer two nonbinary awards – one for biological males and one for biological females, which would seem to defeat the purpose of proclaiming oneself nonbinary – men will dominate the new trans or nonbinary categories, which is unfair to women.
Given the increasingly urgent need to protect the female sports category from adult male athletes who are beginning to dominate certain women’s sports (especially cycling and running) and policymakers who are prioritizing inclusion of male athletes at the expense of female athletes’ right to fairness and safety… we are now less focused on how to accommodate males and more focused on how to preserve female sports as all-female spaces.
Therefore, we support new categories only so long as they
do not detract from overall prize money, scholarships,
or prestige offered to female athletes, however they identify.
Testosterone Suppression Doesn’t Remove Male Performance Advantage
In 2019, when the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group was formed, many national and international sport governing bodies had created eligibility rules that required men to suppress their testosterone to certain levels for a certain amount of time before competing against women. There was much talk about nanomoles per liter (nmol/L) – the measurement used with testosterone levels – and disagreement about whether 10 nmol/L, 5 nmol/L, (and now 2.5 nmol/L) was the appropriate level to mitigate men’s natural advantage.
As we mentioned, the thinking at the time was that since testosterone is the big driver in men’s athletic advantage over women, suppressing testosterone might even the playing field. Testosterone suppression for one year – without target levels or specific monitoring requirements – was the NCAA rule by which Lia Thomas, who had competed on the men’s swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania for three years, became the first man who identifies as transgender to win an NCAA Division I women’s national championship in 2022.
We already knew about physical and physiological differences between males and females – and the effects of testosterone on boys during puberty. We already had sufficient evidence to indicate that males of all ages possess physical advantages over females – which is why the female category exists.
A new body of research focused on the impact of testosterone reduction or elimination on male bodies over various numbers of years.[vi] [vii] [viii] [ix] [x] [xi] Researchers found the male legacy advantages – which include larger hearts, lungs, and skeletons; more muscle mass; and less body fat, resulting in greater strength, speed, size, and reaction time – cannot be mitigated via testosterone suppression after puberty. Reducing testosterone decreases strength somewhat, but does not reduce male strength to female levels, and does nothing to mitigate other post-puberty advantages such as size. It does quickly mitigate a small part of the sports performance equation: hemoglobin levels. But overall, testosterone reduction or elimination does not level the playing field between men and women.
The WSPWG no longer believes it is fair
for any male to compete in the women’s category.
Boys Have Inherent Performance Advantages Over Girls
The WSPWG initially believed that male children who identify as trans could be included in girls’ events because those boys had not yet experienced the life-altering effects of testosterone at puberty, and because physical and physiological differences between girls and boys seemed minimal. However, when we explored the mounting research, we found that even young boys outperform girls in a variety of fundamental sports such as swimming and running. Analyses of swimming and track and field events over the past several decades, along with new research on Greek six-year-olds, show that boys possess a performance advantage over girls – running between 9 and 16 percent faster, for instance.[xii]
As a result, the WSPWG now asserts that females
must not be required to compete against males at any age.
That said, in keeping with our core value of sport participation for all, we differentiate competition at all ages and levels (age-group meets, junior varsity and varsity teams, college, and elite events) from physical education, intramurals, and backyard-badminton-style sports experiences, during which people of any sex might enjoy friendly fun and athletic games together.
Athletes Must Not Take Drugs to Become Eligible for Sports
Our position on drug use has also evolved over time.
While we were initially open to testosterone suppression as a valid method
for gaining eligibility to women’s sports, we now believe that neither
performance-enhancing nor performance-mitigating drugs should be allowed.
Ingesting drugs is contrary to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) policy and to accepted principles of fair competition.
Since some trans-identified people take drugs such as testosterone, estrogen, and testosterone-suppressing medications to address gender dysphoria, doping governing bodies will need to determine when transgender athletes should or could qualify for therapeutic-use exemptions (TUEs) and when new transgender categories might allow such exemptions. In all cases, however, no eligibility rules should require an athlete to take drugs to meet a competitive standard consistent with their gender identity.
The WSPWG’s Language Has Changed
We have updated our terminology because we need to convey
who is competing, and wanting to compete, against women.
We mean no disrespect by using such terms as “males who identify as transgender” or “males who want to be perceived as women” or “men who believe they should have a right to play women’s sports” or “trans-identified males” to refer to what others might call transwomen, gender-fluid, and nonbinary athletes. Our goal is to clarify. The female sports category was created to offer opportunities to girls and women – and to exclude males, even males who have altered their bodies, act in stereotypically feminine ways, or present themselves to the world as women.
Unlike gender identity, sex is immutable. Males cannot transform into females, regardless of medication or surgery, regardless of their gender identity, and regardless of whether they choose to embrace or reject gender stereotypes. The best way to convey that these people are male, we now believe, is to use the words male and men.
Our Environment Is Changing
Most Male Transgender Athletes Have Unmodified Male Bodies
When we began working together in 2019, transgender activists were demanding the right for trans-identified males to participate against females – conditioned on mitigation (testosterone suppression). After research proved that testosterone suppression only weakens men slightly and that they retain legacy performance advantages – trans activists changed tactics. Now they demand participation even for males who identify as transgender and choose not to have surgery or hormone replacement therapy, which is usually the case.
Almost 70 percent of transgender people make no medical changes
(such as hormone ingestion) or surgical changes (such as gonadectomy)
to their bodies, according to a 2023 poll by the Washington Post
and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Almost 85 percent have not had
any surgery. Therefore, when they compete against women,
it’s usually no different, biologically speaking,
from any other man competing against women.
“Gender-fluid” and “non-binary” athletes with male bodies are demanding access to women’s sports, too. But male bodies remain male despite ambiguous self-identities.
Males Are Winning Women’s Competitions
Our work began well before swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male, captured national and international attention by winning a national collegiate championship in 2022. Before Laurel Hubbard, a biological male, won two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, and another gold in a women’s event at the Roma World Cup in Rome. In 2021, Hubbard became the first transwoman to compete in the Olympics.
Our work began before Austin Killips, a biological male, won three elite women’s cycling races in 2023, taking home prize money that had been specifically raised and designated for women. Before powerlifter Mary Gregory, a biological male, set masters world records (world squat record, open world bench-pressing record, masters world deadlift record, and masters world total record) in 2019 in the 100% Raw Powerlifting Federation. Before Kae Ravichandran, a biological male, won the women’s Finger Lakes 50k trail race (2023) after winning the non-binary category of the Boston marathon earlier that year — an apparent example of using “self-ID” to pick and choose categories. Ravichandran would have placed fifth in the trail race among the men.[xiii]
For each male victory, there are many female losses.
“I’ve left cycling. Losing to a trans rider hurts on a million different levels.”
– Hannah Arensman, 24, US cycling champion
“Transgender competitors are ruining our sport.”
— Heather, 66, who quit a ladies shore angling team over trans participation
“At the last contest series I did for Red Bull, I placed second. The trans competitor who won took $1000 dollars in qualifiers, $3000 in finals, and $1,000 in best trick. This totaled to $5000 of the prize money meant for the female athletes. I am sick of being bullied into silence.”
— Skateboarder Taylor Silverman
Women Are Not Winning Men’s Competitions
There is no comparable problem for men. Women who identify as trans are not, in large numbers, competing against men. Why? Because no amount of testosterone or surgery can transform a woman into a person with male-level strength. We can’t help but wonder how men would react if women did start winning men’s tournaments, meets, or other athletic events. Would male athletes decide to “be kind and compassionate” and step aside, forfeiting their first-place prestige and prize money to women who identify as trans? We know they would not because they do their best to keep drug-users out. Men want and deserve a fair playing field. Women do, too.
Cancel Culture Is Real
We have watched as scholars Kathleen Stock, Carole Hooven, Michael J. Joyner, Colin Wright, Jo Phoenix, and others are “silenced or sacked,” as the Guardian put it, for stating that there are two sexes or otherwise challenging gender ideology. We’ve seen footage of swimmer Riley Gaines, who promotes the “radical” idea that female sports should be for females, chased and assaulted by an angry mob of trans activists at San Francisco State. Each of us has lost speaking and publishing opportunities because of our support for female athletes. Our group has been maligned as transphobic; incredibly, the Human Rights Campaign even described us as a hate group.
While cancel culture has an understandably chilling effect on many of our allies, we interpret these aggressive responses as encouraging signs that our message is hitting home. Our central idea – that female sports must be for females only – challenges the fundamental premise of gender ideology: that people can change sexes. Our work shines a spotlight on this inconvenient truth: the vast majority of “transwomen” have not even modified their bodies at all.[xv] Should those men be allowed to compete against women? Of course not. The emperor – the powerful trans lobby – has no clothes. No wonder there’s a backlash.
Feminist and Women’s Sports Groups Are Abandoning Female Athletes
Meanwhile, influential feminist and women’s organizations such as the National Women’s Law Center, Public Justice, Women’s Law Project, ACLU, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Equal Rights Advocates, Legal Momentum, Athlete Ally, and the Women’s Sports Foundation have taken the side of males who identify as trans rather than supporting female athletes.
We feel surprised and disappointed that these groups,
some of which proclaim a feminist mission and legacy,
are placing the interests of men over women in sports,
especially given what we now know about the ineffectiveness
of testosterone suppression, the performance advantage
even young boys enjoy, and the preponderance of males who
identify as transgender but do nothing to change their bodies
medically or surgically.
The Tide Is Turning
A June 2023 Gallup poll found that 69 percent of adults believe transgender athletes should only compete on sports teams that correspond with their sex – up from 62 percent in 2021. Surveys and focus groups conducted for the Transgender Law Center conceded that point, concluding that “our opposition wins the debate on trans youth in sports against any and all arguments we have tried for our side.”
National and international governing bodies are modifying their rules in accordance with the growing acknowledgement of immutable physical differences between women and men. World Aquatics (formerly FINA), World Athletics, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI, the world governing body for cycling), World Rugby, World Boxing Council, British Cycling, British Triathlon, USA Powerlifting, USA Swimming, Volleyball England, and others have revised their rules to forbid men who have gone through male puberty (or in some cases, all men and boys) to compete against girls and women. Sometimes the men’s category is being redefined as an open or mixed category – an accommodation we support.
UCI revised its policy review after a trans-identified male, Austin Killips, won an elite race created specifically to give women more opportunities in cycling – a win that gave the winner’s share of a $35,000 prize to a male. One race Killips won – the Belgian Waffle Ride – changed its eligibility criteria as of August 2023 to exclude everyone except females from the female category “in the interest of protecting the parity of sports between women and men.” The new UCI rule goes into effect August 1, 2023.
Champion Women’s petition asking “legislators, sport leaders and sports governing bodies to adopt transgender eligibility guidelines that are evidence-based and that prioritize safety and fairness in the girls’ and women’s sports categories” has been signed by more than 9,000 people, including 460 Olympians, Paralympians, and National Team Athletes.
Federal Legislation Is Needed
The WSPWG calls for clear federal legislation and/or regulations
to ensure that female athletes at all ages and levels benefit
from sex-segregated competitive sports opportunities.
This was the intent of Title IX.
We also support accommodations (such as separate scoring, new categories, or redefining the men’s category as open or mixed) so that males who identify as trans and do not want to compete in a men’s category can enjoy the benefits of sports – so long as there is no direct competition with females and no overall reduction of female athletes’ right to their share of all participation opportunities, including scholarships, as guaranteed by long-standing Title IX regulations.
We Welcome Your Comments
The Women’s Sports Policy Working Group remains committed to protecting the female sports category and finding trans-related accommodations that do not violate women’s rights. The scientific facts and the original intent of Title IX support our position. Given the upcoming 2024 Olympics, this issue remains more important and timelier than ever.
We welcome your input. For more info:
- A detailed explanation of our position.
- A one-pager: Seven Good Reasons Girls and Women Need Federally Protected, Sex-Segregated Sports.
- A partial list of Male Winners in Women’s Sports
- Data detailing how high school boys’ records exceed women’s world records.
- WSPWG position on why access to female athletes’ locker rooms should be restricted to female athletes.
[i] Separate but equal treatment under the law is justified based on immutable sex characteristics – which, if not considered, might result in harm or diminution of opportunities for those with such immutable characteristics. Title IX justifies separate female sports based on the recognition that boys’ and men’s immutable biological characteristics result in numerous male performance advantages including, but not limited to, larger size, more strength, speed, reaction time, larger lung and heart capacities – all of which matter in sport. Privacy laws allow separate changing areas and restrooms for women in recognition that women are particularly vulnerable to male voyeurism and assault when undressing.
[ii] A similar immutable-characteristic standard is used with Paralympic categories. To compete in the vision-impaired category, being blind-identified will not suffice. An athlete cannot wear a blindfold and become eligible for the blind category. “Any athlete wishing to participate in Para sport competition must have an Underlying Health Condition that leads to a permanent Eligible Impairment,” according to the International Paralympic Committee. Being female is not an impairment, but the rationale is the similar; the different female mould is a permanent biological condition, as is being male.
[iii] Champion Women, “Discrimination Against Women in College Sports Is Getting Worse,” June 23, 2020, available at: https://titleixschools.com/2020/06/23/gender-gap/
[iv] Champion Women, “Discrimination Against Women in College Sports Is Getting Worse,” June 23, 2020, available at: https://titleixschools.com/
[v] See Kenny Jacoby, Steve Berkowitz, and Doug Caruso, USA Today, “Title IX: Falling Short at 50” March 2022.
[vi] Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg, “Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage.” Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3). This research is one of the most cited ever in academic literature. It definitively establishes that no amount of testosterone reduction can make male competition in women’s categories fair or equal, even when the athlete has been on testosterone blockers for many years.
[vii] Hooven, Carole, T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone That Dominates and Divides Us. New York: Henry Holt, 2021.
[viii] Tambalis KD, Panagiotakos DB, Psarra G, et al. Physical fitness normative values for 6–18-year-old Greek boys and girls, using the empirical distribution and the lambda, mu, and sigma statistical method. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(6):736–46, cited in Hilton EN, Lundberg TR. Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage. Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3).
[ix] Handelsman DJ, Hirschberg AL, Bermon S. Circulating Testosterone as the Hormonal Basis of Sex Differences in Athletic Performance. Endocr Rev. 2018;39(5):803-29. Epub 2018/07/17.
[x] Clark RV, Wald JA, Swerdloff RS, Wang C, Wu FCW, Bowers LD, Matsumoto AM 2019 Large divergence in testosterone concentrations between men and women: Frame of reference for elite athletes in sex- specific competition in sports, a narrative review. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 90:15-22.
[xi] Transwomen maintain physiological, sex-linked (legacy) advantages even after multiple years on gender-affirming hormone treatment such as testosterone-suppression drugs. For example, hormone treatments do not affect height.
[xii] Tambalis KD, Panagiotakos DB, Psarra G, et al. Physical fitness normative values for 6–18-year-old Greek boys and girls, using the empirical distribution and the lambda, mu, and sigma statistical method. Eur J Sport Sci. 2016;16(6):736–46, cited in Hilton EN, Lundberg TR. Transgender Women in The Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on testosterone suppression and performance advantage. Sports Medicine. 2021;51: (PMID 33289906 and doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01389-3).
[xiii] Fallon Fox, a biological male, fractured the eye socket of a competitor, Tamikka Brents in 2014, causing a concussion. In 2020, Fox boasted about having knocked out two women, tweeting “For the record, I knocked out two. One woman’s skull was fractured. Just so you know, I enjoyed it. See, I love smacking up TEFS (sic) in the cage who talk transphobic nonsense. It’s bliss!”
[xiv] Male Winners in Women’s Sports: www.MaleWinners.com