In a world more obsessed with rules than a hall monitor with a new whistle, the International Women’s Sports Federation (IWSF) announced today that Lia Thomas, the lightning rod trans athlete, has been banned from participating in women’s sports.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room or, in this case, the grizzly bear on the diving board. Ms. Thomas, a trans woman, has been kicking up waves—quite literally—in the swimming world for some time now. It seems that every time she plunges into the water, she also plunges us into the heated depths of the debate about trans athletes in sports.
Well, the IWSF, having all the sense of a group that names itself after an imaginary federation from Star Trek, has decided they’ve had enough of this hullabaloo. They’ve shown Thomas the exit, in the same manner a matador waves his cape, saying “hasta la vista, baby” or whatever it is that Spanish bullfighters say.
The IWSF’s decision came in the wake of an ever-raging debate about the physiological advantages and disadvantages between cisgender women and trans women athletes. According to them, their decision was based on “scientific consensus.” One can’t help but be reminded of the time the scientific consensus believed the Earth was flat and the center of the Universe. Let’s hope their sources are more credible this time around.
In a recent press conference, the IWSF president, Sir Reginald Pompous III, defended the decision with all the elegance of a walrus on a unicycle. He remarked, “We just need to ensure an equal playing field.” It’s indeed quite an innovative take on equality that can be achieved by banning individuals. Maybe someone should tell Sir Reginald that such innovative thinking got us things like the Berlin Wall and prohibition.
The ban has, as expected, created shockwaves. Critics argue this is just the latest step in a trend of increasing regulations that threaten to turn sports into a bureaucracy-ridden nightmare. The IWSF’s solution to the problem of trans athletes? Simply remove them from the equation. Now, why didn’t we think of that? It’s so simple it’s almost medieval. But I guess when you’re a federation that sounds like it was named by George Lucas, subtlety isn’t really your thing.
While there is a valid discussion to be had about fairness in sports, the solution should not be wholesale exclusion. Yet, the IWSF seems to have all the subtlety of a charging rhinoceros. Rather than sitting down and hammering out an inclusive policy that respects all athletes’ rights, they’ve decided to go the route of an 18th-century monarch and just ban whatever they don’t like.
Fans of Lia Thomas, meanwhile, have reacted to the news with all the calm and measured response of a cat thrown in a swimming pool. They point out that Lia has conformed to all hormone regulations, and by sidelining her, the IWSF is being about as fair as a poker game with a card shark.
In an era where we should be embracing diversity and inclusion, it seems rather odd to be having a discussion about banning athletes because they don’t fit a specific mold. Then again, this is the same sporting world that has a conniption every time a footballer takes a knee, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.
As the debate rages on, one can’t help but wonder what’s next for the IWSF. Will they start banning athletes for being too tall, too strong, or too good at their sport? Only time will tell, but it’s clear that for now, they’ve dived headfirst into a decision that’s about as popular as a porcupine in a balloon shop.
This decision may satisfy those who believe in rigid definitions of sports categories, but it’s worth remembering that the sporting world was once a place where a man named Babe was one of the best baseball players, a guy named Magic was a basketball wizard, and a woman named Billie Jean King broke down barriers in tennis. It was a world where individual achievement was celebrated, not a reason for exclusion.
In this case, it would seem that the IWSF, in their attempt to ensure a level playing field, has forgotten the spirit of sports: competition, diversity, and inclusivity. This ban on Lia Thomas could be seen as a worrying sign of the times or a misstep by a governing body that has all the grace of a bull in a china shop. Either way, it’s a decision that will no doubt continue to ripple through the sports world, reminding us that even in the 21st century, we still have some lengths to swim before we truly understand the meaning of fair play.