Men don’t belong in women’s sports. It’s common sense. But by now, you’ve likely heard about two transgender-identifying athletes sweeping high school girls’ track competitions in Connecticut—winning 15 state titles previously held by nine different girls.
Sadly, this is far from an isolated incident. Male athletes have begun competing in numerous women’s sports around the world at both amateur and professional levels. And many of them are not just competing; they’re winning.
One of the most notable examples of this troubling trend is University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas. A male athlete who competed on the men’s swim team for three years, Thomas joined the women’s team in 2020. By the 2021-2022 season, Thomas was dominating opponents.
In March 2022, Thomas beat out two Olympic medalists to win an NCAA Championship in the 500-yard freestyle event.
You’ve likely heard of Thomas’s story before, as it was picked up and celebrated by major news outlets including ESPN , Sports Illustrated, and CNN. Yet while Thomas has repeatedly denied having a significant advantage over female athletes, the facts cannot be ignored.
Male athletes consistently run faster than female athletes, and there are many factors contributing to these faster times. Men have greater bone size, more muscle mass and more heart and lung capacity than women, just to name a few. These differences give men advantages in other sports, too.
Instead of acknowledging these very real advantages, many sports leagues around the world are simply letting male athletes compete against women. Below is a list of 29 sports in which male athletes have unfairly competed against women, and the list is not exhaustive.
- Women’s basketball – A 50-year-old, 6-foot-6-inch man, who played on a college men’s team 30 years prior, played on a women’s junior college basketball team.
- Women’s beach handball – A male athlete, who formerly played on an NCAA Division III women’s soccer team, now plays for Team USA Women’s Beach Handball.
- Women’s bodybuilding – A male who had competed in men’s bodybuilding in the past started competing as a woman.
- Women’s cricket – A male athlete competed on a women’s cricket team in England, and another male athlete previously did so in Australia.
- Women’s cross country – A male runner competed on an NCAA Division I women’s cross country team and was named the conference’s “Women’s Athlete of the Week.”
- Women’s cycling – A male athlete won gold in the women’s 200-meter sprint in both the 2018 and 2019 Masters Track Cycling World Championships. Another male cyclist first competed in the women’s category in 2017.
- Women’s disc golf – This male athlete has won two professional disc golf events in 2022, both in the Disc Golf Pro Tour’s Elite Series events.
- Women’s dodgeball – A male athlete who once competed on the Canadian men’s dodgeball team later competed on Canada’s women’s team.
- Women’s football – Several male athletes who had previously competed on men’s football teams now compete in women’s football (examples here and here.)
- Women’s golf – A male athlete is attempting to qualify for the Ladies Professional Golf Association. Previously, a male athlete was approved to compete in the Ladies European Tour in 2004. And another male athlete was permitted to compete in the 2020 Women’s World Long Drive Competition.
- Women’s hockey – A male hockey player participated in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
- Women’s lacrosse – A 30-year-old male athlete competes on an NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse team.
- Women’s MMA (mixed martial arts) – A male MMA fighter who competed as a woman broke a female opponent’s eye socket and gave her a concussion. Years later, another male fighter competed as a woman and choked a female competitor into submission in the second round.
- Women’s mountain biking – A male athlete who previously competed in the men’s open division won back-to-back national championships in the women’s elite division in 2018 and 2019.
- Women’s powerlifting – A male powerlifter competed as a female and broke several records before being disqualified.
- Women’s roller derby – A male athlete is part of a women’s roller derby team that has won the world championship four times. And another male athlete was given a spot on the Team USA women’s roller derby team.
- Women’s rowing – Two male athletes were part of a rowing team that competed in a women’s boat race in Canada.
- Women’s rugby – Several male athletes competed on women’s rugby teams. One was celebrated for injuring multiple female athletes. World Rugby finally barred males from competing against women in global competitions in 2020.
- Women’s running – Three male runners were permitted to qualify and race as women at the 2018 Boston Marathon.
- Women’s skateboarding – A 29-year-old male athlete competed in a women’s street skateboarding competition in New York City and beat out a 13-year-old girl for first place.
- Women’s soccer – A male soccer player was given a spot on an NCAA Division III women’s soccer team.
- Women’s softball – A male high school student was given one of 15 spots on the girls’ varsity softball team.
- Women’s surfing – A male athlete who previously won a Western Australia state surfing championship in the men’s division competed in the women’s division in 2022 and won two women’s state championships.
- Women’s swimming – A male swimmer who competed on the men’s team for three years began competing on the women’s team and won a 2022 NCAA Championship in the 500-yard freestyle event. Another male swimmer competed on the men’s team for three years before competing on the women’s team and recording the fastest women’s times in three events at the 2019 Missouri Valley Conference Championships as an exhibition swimmer.
- Women’s tennis – This male tennis player competed in the 1977 U.S. Open as a woman.
- Women’s track and field – Two male athletes dominated girls’ high school competitions in Connecticut. A male athlete won first place in the women’s mile race at an NCAA Division I conference championship. And another male college athlete won the 400-meter hurdles at the NCAA Division II women’s national championships.
- Women’s volleyball – A male athlete competed on an NCAA Division III women’s volleyball team. Male athletes have also competed on women’s professional teams in the U.S. and Brazil.
- Women’s weightlifting – This weightlifter qualified for and competed in the women’s category at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics despite being a male.
- Women’s wrestling – A male has competed in women’s professional wrestling.
We can no longer ignore that this is happening.
When males who identify as female are permitted to compete in women’s sports, it is women and girls who suffer. By being forced to compete against males, female athletes in contact sports will face safety risks. And female athletes across the board will see their athletic and academic opportunities limited. Women and girls will be stepping up to compete knowing that they cannot win.
In addition to concerns about fairness and safety, female athletes could lose the chance to earn monetary rewards for their athletic achievements. For many women, athletics are their best bet for a college scholarship. But now, men are being allowed to compete for these spots.
That’s exactly what happened in Connecticut. And it’s why Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of four female track athletes challenging a Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) policy allowing male athletes to compete against women.
A district court dismissed the case, but ADF attorneys appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Oral arguments took place in September 2022.
The situation in Connecticut is just one example of what women and girls across the country will continue to face if we don’t stand up and make our voices heard.
Ultimately, allowing males to participate in women’s sports denies the reality that sex is real and that it matters. Men have inherent physical advantages over women in sports, and that fact cannot be ignored. If we continue to deny reality, female athletes will not be the only ones who feel the impact. We all will.
We must speak up for women and girls. We must speak up for reality. Men and women are different, and that difference matters.