By Emily Zinos - Ask Me First Minnesota (a project of Minnesota Family Council)

It’s great news for girls that professional women’s sports are finally making it big. This week, the U.S. Women’s National Team had the attention of the world as it took a record fourth FIFA Women’s World Cup title, its second in a row. The US women were unstoppable, becoming the highest scoring team in Women’s World Cup history, and making the USA only the second nation to successfully defend a World Cup crown. With clear benefits to girls, the popularity of women’s sports is changing the world for the better. But do girls’ sports stand a chance if we force them to compete against boys?

Under enormous pressure from transgender activists, professional sports governing bodies have been removing sex from the eligibility rules in sports like soccer, weightlifting, football, track and field, and volleyball, giving men who “identify” as women the right to compete on women’s teams. It goes without saying that the outcome of these eligibility rule changes has not been good for the women and girls who train hard to excel in their sport. A man who feels he was born in the wrong body still runs, swims, and dribbles a soccer ball with a body that is stronger and faster than a woman’s body. Selina Soule, a Connecticut high school track athlete, lost her chance to compete in the New England girls’ track regionals after two boys identifying as girls took first and second place in qualifying races. Selina presciently noted that “eventually, it’s going to get to the point where the biological females will be on the sidelines, watching their own sports.”  Doriane Lambelet Coleman, a Duke law professor and collegiate track champion, recently testified before Congress, echoing Selina’s concerns, “it will be the end of girls and women-only sport if we make gender identity the basis for eligibility.” 

Unfortunately, Selina’s not the only female competitor to lose out under gender identity rules. Women and girls all over the world are learning firsthand the devastating consequences that result from pretending sex doesn’t matter to sports. Jaycee Cooper, a man, set new women’s weightlifting records in Minnesota after the US Powerlifting Association allowed him to compete in the female category. Another man, Rachel McKinnon, won gold in women’s track cycling at the 2018 UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Canada. And Cece Telfer, a man who was competing in the male category just a year ago, now ranks as one of the fastest NCAA runners for women’s track events. These are just a few examples of women losing their place on the podium or in the record books: there are dozens more.

Sadly, the girls and women that are forced to compete against or alongside men cannot just train harder and catch up with their male counterparts. There is a well-documented 10-30% performance gap between male and female athletes that women cannot overcome. Starting in puberty, boys produce testosterone at levels at least four times higher than that of women which brings about increased muscle mass and strength, increased bone size and density, increased heart size, and higher blood oxygen levels. Those high levels of testosterone are a big part of the reason why non-elite male athletes routinely beat records set by elite female athletes. Consider this: Florence Griffith Joyner set the world record in the female 100m race at the 1988 Olympics and no woman since has run that fast. But in 2017 alone, 744 men - and 36 boys - ran the 100m faster than Joyner. In fact, every single year, the world’s fastest women’s marathon runner is “beaten” by hundreds of men. 

Though the US Soccer Federation has yet to force women to compete against men in professional soccer leagues, a USSF policy does allow males to play on female amateur teams, meaning that the girls coming up through the ranks in American soccer are no longer guaranteed a level playing field. Girls forced to play against bigger and faster boys on the soccer field face a higher risk of injury, and fewer opportunities to excel in their sport, challenges that may prove fatal to their future participation. As Jennifer Bryson, founder of Let All Play, said recently, “What number of girls and women subjected to otherwise preventable injuries in soccer are we supposed to think is acceptable? What number of girls and women losing opportunities to earn a spot on a high level team and compete for college scholarships taken instead by a male player who demands to play in a female league, is acceptable? Are we really supposed to offer up some unspecified number of girls and women who want to play soccer as sacrificial lambs to the ideology of gender identity?” 

Women’s sports are a fairly new phenomenon, and the gains we’ve seen in participation and popularity were hard won by pioneer athletes and organizations that foresaw the benefits women and girls would reap from competitive play. Before Title IX was passed in 1972, fewer than 300,000 girls were participating in high school athletics. By 2008 over three million girls were participating. The Boston Marathon did not allow women to enter until 1971, and it wasn’t until 1982 that women’s championships became a part of the NCAA intercollegiate program. But even with less than fifty years of data on girls athletics, we already have evidence that the positive effect of athletic participation extends off the playing field. High school girls who play sports are less likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy, more likely to get better grades in school, and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports. These benefits will likely evaporate if we do not defend girls sports as a female-only institution. What girl would want to compete knowing that male-bodied competitors will dominate the podium?

The accomplishments of the Women’s National Team - four World Cups and four Olympic golds - are the result of women-only sports opportunities. We never would have revelled in Rose Lavelle’s stellar 18-yard left-footed goal shot, or the amazing Naeher penalty kick save, if these women had been forced to compete with men. Because without the level playing field created by female-only athletics, girls and women will be relegated back to the sidelines.