Robyn Blumner of CFI discusses trans women athletes

November 15, 2023 • 11:15 am

The Center for Inquiry (CFI), founded in 1976 by luminaries like James Randi, Martin Gardner, Isaac Asimov, Paul Kurtz, and Carl Sagan, has this mission:

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to defending science and critical thinking in examining religion. CFI’s vision is a world in which evidence, science, and compassion—rather than superstition, pseudoscience, or prejudice—guide public policy.

To make a better world, we need to use our heads and our hearts. To confront the challenges that face us as a planetary civilization, we need to use the tools of science and reason guided by compassion and respect for the dignity of every individual.

To move forward, we need to discard old superstitions, prejudices, and magical thinking and embrace facts, evidence, and critical thinking.

It’s about more than whether or not God exists. It’s about more than whether ghosts roam among us, aliens hover above us, or psychics can see within us.

And now there’s a new brand of pseudoscience: that deriving from wokeness. Like the other forms of pseudoscience like psychics and homeopathic medicine, the distortion of science to conform to so-called “progressive” ideologies is damaging to society, largely by injuring our organs of reason, making us see in nature what we want to see rather than what is.

Robyn Blumner is the current President and CEO of the CFI as well as the executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science.  As part of the CFI’s mission, she’s now written two articles decrying the ideological distortion of reality. The first, “The truth matters and secular humanists should defend it,” was published in Free Inquiry, one of the organs for CFI. I discussed that piece on this site, quoting her criticisms of science distorted by the “social justice police”, including touting indigenous ways of knowing as coequal to science, the opprobrium attending any studies of behavioral genetics, and the unwise rush to use of puberty blockers to treat gender dyphoria. (She also went after older forms of religious distortion of science, namely creationism, as well as right-wing attempts to interfere in issues of sexuality and gender transition.)

Although attacking both woke and right-wing distortions of science was a bit of a departure from the normal fare of the CFI, it adhered strictly to the organization’s mission of showing the “the truth matters.” To that end, Robyn also helped Luana Maroja and I publish our paper “The ideological subversion of biology,” dealing largely with left-wing distortions of evolutionary biology, in Skeptical Inquirer, another organ of the CFI. And of course a few disgruntled skeptics wrote in saying that our piece was a wrongheaded departure from the normal fare of the magazine. Why discuss how many sexes there are in animals when the magazine should be attacking psychics and homeopaths?. But our piece was attacking the equivalent of psychics in biology: those who make claims about reality that are not only false, but harmful to society.

At any rate, Robyn’s now published a new piece in Skeptical inquirer that you can access by clicking below. The topic, of course, is a hot potato, but also ripe for scientific discussion. Robyn’s discussion is one of the most fair-minded takes on the issue in print, and is a good piece to show to ideologues who argue that, on the basis of fairness to transgender women (biological men), they should be allowed to compete in athletics against biological women.  Robyn concludes that no, this shouldn’t be allowed because trans women (even under hormone treatment) have, as we’ve discussed before, athletic advantages over biological women in strength, musculature and other traits that give them an unfair advantage in competition.

Click to read:

First the question is raised, and although in the end it’s a moral issue, it also depends heavily on scientific data. If by suppressing testosterone, trans women lose all athletic advantages over biological women, there would not be an issue. Is this in fact the case?

But an issue has arisen that requires us to look more carefully at something we took for granted: Is it truly necessary to segregate sports by sex? The issue arises because transgender women athletes who have undergone male puberty are seeking to compete with natal women athletes. In the name of transgender rights should this be permitted, or does it inherently undermine the fair playing field that sports demand?

The question is a legitimate one, and people who ask it shouldn’t be maligned as transphobes and bigots. We need to lower the temperature on these discussions. There are competing interests at stake. For transgender women, it’s a way to be treated as women—full stop. For natal women, it’s a question of fairness. There are incontrovertible biological differences between biological males and females that puts the question of transgender women in sports into the realm of science in addition to public policy.

Robyn goes through the advantages of male over female athletes, true in nearly all sports, and then asks if a biological male suppresses testosterone, one step in becoming a trans female, are these sex-based advantages eliminated? Increasingly, data show that they’re not:

If we eliminated sex categories for most sports, there would rarely be female winners. For natal women to be able to compete in a way that gives them a fair chance at victories, there have to be sex segregated sports.

The question then becomes whether that advantage can be mitigated through testosterone suppression. That is a matter of scientific inquiry, and the longitudinal biomedical findings to date suggest that “the effects of testosterone suppression in male adulthood have very little impact” on physiological outcomes such as muscle strength, muscle mass, or lean body mass, according to a paper titled “When Ideology Trumps Science” by six international leading researchers (Devine et al. 2022). They cite a cross-sectional study from 2022 that measured the performance of transgender women and found the “advantage may be maintained after 14 years of testosterone suppression.” (For a thorough vetting of the subject, read “Transgender Women in the Female Category of Sport: Perspectives on Testosterone Suppression and Performance Advantage” by researchers Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg, published in the journal Sports Medicine [Hilton and Lundberg 2021].)

Certainly that does not mean that every transgender woman athlete will win against all natal women, just as many natal male athletes would lose against better women athletes. In Serena Williams’s case, all but perhaps the top 100 men tennis players would lose in a match with her. [JAC: Actually, the #203-ranked male player beat both Venus and Serena.] It’s just that the innate advantages conferred by male puberty are not significantly dissipated through hormone adjustments. So the initial reason we sex segregate sports remains valid: to ensure a fair opportunity for women to compete and potentially win championships.

The counterargument that it’s a non-problem because there so few transgender women want to compete with biological women doesn’t stand up because although trans women athletes are relatively few, they’re not absent, and they tend to win a lion’s share of the prizes.  To keep things fair to biological women, there had to be a ban. It happened in cycling, swimming, and now, as I recall, rugby.

Reportedly there are now dozens of transgender women competing in women’s cycling, and they are starting to take top honors and cash prizes—including American transgender woman cyclist Austin Killips, who won a women’s stage race at the Tour of Gila.

So, what happened?

Soon thereafter, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the governing body of cycling, decided in July to ban transgender women who had gone through male puberty from women’s competition. They can compete in a “men/other” category instead. This follows on the heels of a decision in May by British Cycling that banned transgender women from women’s competitive events.

Previously, the rules for international cycling had included limits on testosterone levels. But that didn’t suffice to make the playing field level. In fact, some top women cyclists, such as Hannah Arensmen, a thirty-five-time winner on the national cyclocross circuit, announced they were quitting the sport due to this unfairness. Arensmen was repeatedly beaten by transgender women cyclists, including one nearly double her twenty-four years, and she had had enough.

The international governing body for swimming, World Aquatics, announced in July that it would establish an “open” category that would be open to all transgender athletes, thereby giving natal women their own category for competition.

For now the solution appears to be either an “open” category for all transgender athletes (but what about the transgender men, who have an athletic disadvantage against transgender women?), or to allow all transgender athletes to compete in the “men’s” category.  That’s not optimal, but at least allows trans athletes who do want to compete the chance to do so.

In the end, it’s simply unfair to biological women to force them to compete against trans women who were natal men and suppressed their testosterone. Given the rapid grown of in numbers of both trans men and trans women, the problem of fairness is not going to go away.  But keeping women’s sports for natal women seems to be the fairest solution; for surely, with the growth in numbers of trans women, if they compete against biological women then biological women will gradually leave sports, as did Hannah Arensmen. They simply lose their chance to win, which is a huge motivator in sports. In fact, Robyn thinks that the “progressive solution”, which depends on the mantra “trans women are women” (i.e., exactly equivalent to women in all rights, including the right to compete in women’s sports), may be counterproductive:

I am sympathetic to the argument that transgender women are socially disadvantaged and stigmatized. And the way to combat it is to integrate them into womanhood without differentiating between natal women and transgender women. But I wonder if that’s truly the case and if forcing open women’s sports to transgender women hasn’t exacerbated the problem.

A recent Gallup poll shows that a larger majority of Americans now say transgender athletes should only compete on teams that match their assignment at birth than in prior years. Sixty-nine percent now oppose transgender women in women’s sports compared with 62 percent who objected in 2021. And only 26 percent of people endorse the idea of transgender athletes playing on teams that match their gender identity. That’s down from 34 percent in 2021. The appearance of transgender women athletes competing—and at times winning—in female sports categories is not ameliorating the social stigma. If anything, it is driving people away from sympathies with transgender rights.

Christian nationalists and some Republican lawmakers are whipping up a backlash against the transgender rights movement to solidify and energize their base. On the other side, the identitarian Left is demonizing anyone who doesn’t go along with every element of the transgender rights agenda, including transgender women in women’s sports.

Sophisticated people who care about both science and social fairness need to separate the signal from the noise. These are complicated issues that need to be parsed to do the least harm possible to the most people. In that calculation, I stand with the natal women athletes who want to compete against each other.

In ethics, this is a consequentialist and utilitarian solution: the higher social well being comes from not allowing trans women to compete against biological women. But I see no other solution that won’t cause widespread resentment—which reduces well being.

But of course not all people embrace a consequentialist morality, and there are deontologists, opposed to Robyn (and my) view, who simply finesse the problem by saying that “trans women are women,” and that settles the issue. I think they’re wrong because it will ultimately lead to the death of women’s sports, but, as always, there is no objective system of ethics. At the least, though, you can inform your ethics with data, and the data show that, in terms of athletic ability, trans women are not (biological) women. Holding that mantra in the face of statistics makes gender ideologues the equivalent of psychics: they claim to be helping people, but have to ignore the data in fulfilling what they see as their mission.

USA Fencing will allow males who self-identify as females to fence against biological women; ACLU defends “affirmative” surgery and drugs on minors

September 29, 2023 • 11:45 am

It amazes me that, in light of the science showing that trans women who have gone through male puberty retain significant athletic advantages over biological females, even when taking therapy to reduce testosterone, people still insist that trans females should be able to compete in women’s sports against natal females. And many people maintain this even if the trans females are simply males who claim that they’re females, without having had any surgery or hormone therapy.

Various sports organizations are starting to cotton on to this brand of unfairness, banning trans women from competing in women’s sports. That’s not a perfect solution, of course, because trans women who want to do sports should have the opportunity to compete. The only two solutions that seem feasible are to allow all trans people to compete in the “male” category (which of course will disadvantage trans women and probably trans men), or to create an “other” category for people who aren’t either natal males or females.  But the previous system of using hormone titers or, in some areas, allowing self-identified or medically treated trans females to compete with biological women, is not a fair solution.

In view of this, the Olympics have bailed, throwing up their hands and saying that each sport can decide using its own criteria. (This is an impossible requirement.) But other groups, including World Rugby. FINA (the international body governing women’s swimming), and World Athletics (the body governing running and track and field) have banned transgender women from competing in elite women’s sports.

There are a few holdouts, though, and this report, from Reduxx (click to read), notes that USA Fencing, the body governing fencing with foil and saber, will continue to allow transgender women to compete against biological women—regardless of whether the former have had medical treatment. If you’re a man who self identifies as a woman, you can fence with women. And this despite the reports, documented amply in the article, that men who were mediocre fencers against members of their own sex have after identifying as women, suddenly started winning lots of medals. Fencing is not exempt from the fact that men have physical and physiological advantages (probably not effaced by hormone treatment, though we don’t know) that give them athletic advantages over biological women.

Click to read:

An excerpt:

A number of trans-identified males have been dominating women’s fencing championships despite the fact that many of them floundered in the men’s category. A source has now revealed that many women in the sport fear losing opportunities if they speak out against the inclusion of men in women’s fencing.

In November of 2022, USA Fencing adopted a Transgender and Nonbinary Athlete Policy which stated that division placement would be determined based on self-declared “gender identity” or “gender expression” rather than on biological sex.

“USA Fencing will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity, regardless of sex assigned at birth, or any other form of gender expression for participation in any division,” read the policy. “As such, athletes will be permitted to participate in USA Fencing sanctioned events in a manner consistent with their gender identity/ expression, regardless of the gender associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

The policy also stipulated that an individual’s classification will remain unaltered when transferring over to the sporting category of the opposite sex. “Transgender athletes will be permitted to keep the fencing classification that was held prior to transitioning. For example, a transgender woman who held an A classification in the men’s division will keep her A classification in the women’s division.”

But Reduxx has now learned that USA Fencing had permitted males to self-identify into the women’s category for nearly a decade prior to the adoption of the new policy, resulting in a small number of trans-identified players dominating the sport. Of the five that have been identified, most of them had performed poorly while competing in the men’s category.

Thus if you are in a high fencing subclass when you fenced as a male, you keep that subclass when you start fencing against biological women. That’s doubly unfair.

I don’t have much to say about this beyond what I’ve said before and above; the article gives examples of the unfairness.

But one thing did catch my eye: this paragraph from the article:

A vocal trans activist, Wilson has expressed disapproval over a bill in his home state that would prevent the medical transitioning of minors. Kentucky’s Senate Bill 150, which was blocked by a federal judge at the end of June at the behest of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), would prohibit health care providers in the state from administering puberty-halting drugs and performing “gender-affirming” surgeries on children.

Now this is one of those bills passed in the South that is a bit dicey because it could be construed as anti-trans; for one thing, it involves issues like pronoun usage. But the part of the law that actually was blocked by the judge was the part that prohibited “gender surgeries on children,”.  But it turns out that the ACLU was fighting for the “right” of minors to have not just gender-affirming care, but care that included drugs and surgery. On minors.

From WLKY, a CBS station in Louisville, published on June 29. Emphasis is mine:

A federal judge has blocked parts of a law that bans gender-affirming care for trans youth in Kentucky the day before it is set to take effect.

U.S. District Judge David Hale granted the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky a temporary injunction blocking parts of Senate Bill 150 from going into effect on Thursday.

SB 150 was passed by the Kentucky general assembly during this year’s legislative session.

It includes many things, like blocking teachers from using a student’s preferred pronouns and requiring certain bathroom policies.

It also would ban health care providers in the state from performing gender-affirming care for transgender children. This is the part of the bill that is being blocked.

Gov. Any Beshear vetoed the bill, but it was later overridden by the general assembly.

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

That “gender-affirming care”, as you can see from the bill, includes drugs like puberty blockers and surgery, done on minors (defined as someone under 18). That’s what the ACLU is favoring.  Now we can quibble whether a 17-year-old has the right to get surgery or hormone treatment, but the bill says minors in general, so the ACLU is, I think, favoring kids of any age getting drugs and surgery.  And that’s bad.

But the ACLU says it’s okay because it’s the right of minors to have drugs and surgery. From the WLKY article:

The ACLU filed for an injunction in May, saying that lawmakers are violating the rights and freedoms of parents and their children in Kentucky.

“We are grateful to the Court for enjoining this egregious ban on medically necessary care, which would have caused harm for countless young Kentuckians,” said ACLU Kentucky legal director Corey Shapiro in a news release. “This is a win, but it is only the first step. We’re prepared to fight for families’ right to make their own private medical decisions in court, and to continue doing everything in our power to ensure access to medical care is permanently secured in Kentucky.”

The problem, of course, is that the safety of some gender-affirming care, like the long-term effects of puberty blockers, or even the long-term effect of genital surgery, hasn’t yet been sufficiently studied. That’s why an increasing number of countries are treating puberty-blocker administration as “clinical experimentation” instead of standard care. People are starting to realize that those drugs may have long-term harms that we don’t know about.

But this doesn’t bother the ACLU, which, under the guidance of its gender expert, the unhinged Chase Strangio, believes that it’s the “right” of any minor to get possibly risky medical treatment.  I’d say we should wait until the clinical studies are completed.

Like the Southern Poverty Law Center, the ACLU has changed from a civil rights organization into a Social Justice organization.  It now preferentially defends the civil rights of “progressive” groups and people rather than all people, and we should keep an eye on it.

Oberlin investigates women’s lacrosse coach for wanting women’s sports reserved for biological women

August 31, 2023 • 9:15 am

Just after it paid off millions of dollars to settle the Gibson’s Bakery case, Oberlin is back in the news again, and not in a particularly favorable way.  According to the video below, and the two news stories below it (click to read), the college has started harassing and investigating its women’s lacrosse coach, Kim Russell.  Why? The text just below is taken from the first news source, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which made the video as well, but the New York Post gives an identical story. And the video tells pretty much all the story, so watch that first:

From IWF:

In a documentary IWF produced telling her story, Russell talks about loving her lacrosse student-athletes as her own children. But following an Instagram post where Russell congratulated swimming star Emma Weyant for being the “real winner” of the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in 2022 after she officially came in second behind UPenn’s Lia Thomas, one of her own lacrosse players reported Russell’s post to Oberlin’s athletic director. The report triggered a series of lengthy disciplinary meetings and a full-fledged character assassination campaign against her involving Oberlin faculty and the women’s lacrosse team.

[JAC: Lia Thomas is of course a biological male who has become a trans female and a winning swimmer when competing on women’s teams. And the disciplinary meetings were apparently recorded by coach Russell, and you can hear them in the video.]

Evidence now available to the public, the audio recordings depict the onslaught of verbal attacks Kim was met with from Oberlin administrators:

“Unfortunately, you fall into a category of people that are filled with hate in the world.”

“It’s acceptable to have your own opinions, but when they go against your college’s beliefs, it’s a problem. For your employment.”

“What Oberlin College subjected Kim Russell to for simply believing biological truths was nothing short of a modern, Maoist struggle session,” said Andrea Mew, storytelling coordinator at IWF and producer of the documentary.

Of course multiple investigation meetings constitute chilling of speech; they are punishment in themselves. As Russell says, “Every time I’ve spoken up, I’ve been silenced, which to me is the opposite of what I thought Oberlin would be.”

Apparently, Oberlin lacrosse players have drunk the Kool-Aid, as several women on the team speak up against Russell.

Now Russell was speaking as a private individual on an Instagram post, so her speech was not representing Oberlin College or its policy. Nevertheless, Oberlin College does in fact have a policy for participation of trans women on women’s teams, and it says this (I’ve bolded the relevant bits):

1. A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who has received a medical exception for treatment with testosterone for diagnosed Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for purposes of NCAA competition may compete on a men’s team, but is no longer eligible to compete on a women’s
team without changing that team status to a mixed team.

2. A trans female (MTF) student-athlete being treated with testosterone suppression medication for Gender Identity Disorder or gender dysphoria and/or Transsexualism, for the purposes of NCAA competition may continue to compete on a men’s team but may not compete on a women’s team without changing it to a mixed team status until completing one calendar year of testosterone suppression

Any transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatment related to gender transition may participate in sex-separated sports activities in accordance with his or her assigned birth gender.

• A trans male (FTM) student-athlete who is not taking testosterone related to gender transition may participate on a men’s or women’s team.

• A trans female (MTF) transgender student-athlete who is not taking hormone treatments related to gender transition may not compete on a women’s team.

According to this, trans females can’t compete on women’s teams unless they are taking hormone treatments, and, even in that case the womenh’s team has to be changed to a “mixed team,” which doesn’t seem to be the case for women’s lacrosse at Oberlin.  It’s conceivable that although Russell was speaking as a private individual and has the right to free speech, if there were trans women on the team her sentiments could be interpreted as invalidating the participation of those trans women, creating a hostile “athletics environment”. And that may violate Oberlin’s policy to the extent that they could discipline her.

What’s not clear in this policy is whether, if all trans-women on the lacrosse team have completed a year of testosterone suppression, the team can now revert to a women’s team. In that case, Russell is indeed attacking members of the team she coaches.  Oberlin needs to rewrite #2 above to clarify this.

But given that there is no “mixed lacrosse team” at Oberlin, and no sign that it was once a “mixed team” that has reverted to a “women’s team”, I can’t see Russell violating University policy in any way with her Instagram post, and therefore she didn’t deserve the pile-on she got from Oberlin officials.  Read more about this in the two articles below.

From the Independent Women’s Forum (click to read):

As I’ve written before, given the scientific data that men who have completed male puberty retain body-related athletic advantages over women for years, even if they’re taking hormone treatment, such trans women shouldn’t be allowed to compete in athletics against biological women. And it almost goes without saying that it’s unfair for biological men who identify as women but haven’t been medically treated to compete against biological women.

What’s not clear here is whether Russell violated Oberlin policy. My feeling is that she didn’t, since there is no “mixed” lacrosse team at her college, and she was speaking as a private individual.  Still, although I agree with her sentiments, given her position as coach, I wouldn’t have put up that Instagram post

And it’s unconscionable for Oberlin officials to investigate and discipline Russell without clear charges of what exact policy she’s supposed to be violating.  It appears that she was persecuted for violating the “college’s beliefs,” but colleges shouldn’t have “beliefs” on this issue; they should have policies. And although they do, the policies are unclear.

My own view is that Oberlin should either have three teams: men’s, women’s (reserved for biological women) and mixed; or, alternatively, trans women should be allowed to compete on the men’s team, which should then be designated as “open”.

From the New York Post (click to read):

h/t: Jez, Mark

Felicidades a España!

August 21, 2023 • 8:32 am

(Pardon me if I’ve erred in my Spanish title!)

I was unable to watch the FIFA Women’s World Cup finals in Ecuador, but found out just yesterday that Spain had defeated England 1-0. It was a squeaker, with some good saves by both Spanish and English goalkeepers. But the Spanish captain Olga Carmona got one mighty kick into the corner of the net, and that was all she wrote.

Here’s the summary from Andrew Das, who writes the NY Times’s emailed newsletter on the Cup.

In the moments after Spain claimed its first World Cup title, after the medals were collected and the queen had been hugged and the trophy was thrust into the night sky amid a thunderstorm of fireworks and gold confetti, there was only joy for its players. But World Cups are never about a single moment, or a single emotion.

Nearby, the England players had seen their own championship dream dashed by the slimmest of margins, a single goal in a single game in a long month of them. Watching from afar, Australia could be proud of a few weeks it will never forget, the United States would have wondered what might have been, and a handful of teams — Jamaica and South AfricaColombia and MoroccoNew Zealand and the Philippines — could ponder what lies ahead in this brave new women’s soccer world.

But on Sunday in Sydney, there was only one celebration, and that was for Spain, a team that had nearly come apart before it came together, a team that set aside its significant differences to achieve the biggest first in a World Cup filled with them. That meant more for its singular moment. And it was, to Spain’s players, worth everything. “We deserve it,” Spain midfielder Aitana Bonmatí said. No one could disagree.

Here are the highlights: Spain’s sole (and winning) goal is at 1:41, and is replayed twice.

. . . and here are Spain’s highlights throughout the whole tournament:

And here’s Sweden nabbing third place, beating Australia 2-0. There are also some good saves, and a bit of a scuffle between two players, but Sweden (in yellow) won on a penalty kick and and an excellent goal.

Watching what parts of the games I could, plus the highlights, have convinced me that women’s soccer, at least at this level, is just as exciting as men’s, for the level of play is very high.  Although and equity in pay between men and women was driven by the U.S. team, which, sadly, made its egress during the knockout round, I suspect that watching these games is going to stimulate a worldwide interest in women’s soccer, and inspire a lot of young girls to start kicking the ball around. As the NYT wrote in the paper:

Spain’s first victory in the Women’s World Cup and England’s run to the final were not only formidable achievements for teams that have transformed into perennial title contenders in the space of just a few years. They were also a fortifying message to the many girls in both countries who have increasingly been taking up the sport: Women, too, can elevate a nation to the summit of world soccer.

The final has reflected the increasing interest and investment in women’s soccer in Spain and England, with more and more girls joining clubs and leagues that are growing in size and professionalism — a profound change in countries where soccer was long the preserve of all-powerful men’s teams, and one that is likely to accelerate after this year’s World Cup.

“The perception of women’s soccer has changed,” said Dolors Ribalta Alcalde, a specialist in women’s sports at Ramon Llull University in Barcelona. “It is now seen as a real and exciting opportunity for girls. This World Cup, with its high profile, will have an impact on how people view women’s soccer. It will help make a big step forward.”


World Cup Final: England vs. Spain

August 16, 2023 • 1:15 pm

Although my long=shot favorite team Colombia is out of contention for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, it will be an exciting final: England versus Spain.

From the NYT:

The noise was giddy, and gleeful, and just a little bit wild, as if the 75,000 fans who had packed into Stadium Australia could not believe quite how perfectly it had all turned out. They did not know it would not last, of course; at that point, the very idea it might not felt remote, absurd. In that moment, the noise seemed to ripple and crackle with magic.

Australia will not win this World Cup. That honor, instead, will fall to one of Europe’s two new powerhouses: Spain, narrow victors against Sweden on Tuesday, and England, conqueror of the Matildas — winning by 3-1, but no more comfortably — on Wednesday. On some level, though, this tournament has belonged to Australia.

For three weeks, the Matildas have held the country in the palm of their hands. Australia was captivated by the team’s brush with despair in the group phase. It was enthralled by its composed demolition of Denmark in the round of 16. The whole place seemed to hold its breath for the duration of the quarterfinal victory against France. The nation soared with every exhilarating high, and it suffered in each moment of exquisite tension.

Choose your team: the Matildas or the Phoebes.

Here are the highlights of England’s 3-1 victory over Australia:

. . . and Spain’s victory over Sweden (I hope these show up as we can’t access YouTube in the islands:

U.S. loses 5-4 to Sweden on penalty kicks in the FIFA Women’s World Cup

August 6, 2023 • 8:32 am

Against the odds, Sweden beat the U.S. in the Women’s World Cup 5-4. It was a tie at game’s end, so the match was settled on penalty kicks. Given that (as I recall) the U.S. was also favored in the penalty-kick department, this is a double disappointment for U.S. fans.  I was even up early enough to watch the last 40 minutes and the penalty kicks.

From ESPN:

The United States‘ Women’s World Cup title defence is over. Defeated by Sweden on penalties after a frustrating 0-0 draw across the preceding 120 minutes, in the end it took one of the most dramatic shootouts ever to do it.

After Sweden missed two of their four kicks, the U.S. were 3-2 up and striker Sophia Smith had a chance to win it, only to put her effort wide. Alyssa Naeher and Magdalena Eriksson then kept each side alive before U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara, brought off the bench late on to take a penalty, smacked an effort onto the post.

With a chance to win it for SwedenLina Hurtig stepped up and Naeher seemingly saved her effort. Only she didn’t. Batting the ball away from goal after the low shot, Naeher thought she had kept it out; the referees convened, and VAR determined that the effort had crossed the line by a matter of millimetres.

In the game, Sweden weren’t good at all and didn’t deserve to advance on the balance of play. The United States produced more. But in a repeat of the 2016 Rio Olympics quarterfinal, they were able to grind out a result and hold their nerve when it mattered most.

Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic kept her side in it during normal time as she produced one of the finest goalkeeping performances the World Cup has ever seen, denying wave upon wave of USWNT efforts on goal (22 shots in total, 11 on target.)

The moment the game went to penalties, it felt almost inevitable that Sweden would be the ones to advance. How could they not? Musovic had been irrepressible the entire game, producing saves that felt like they were denying all rhyme and reason. Sweden might not have deserved this, but she did.

And, for the first time since 2011, the USWNT lost a game at a World Cup. A tournament defined by surprises, underdogs, and new nations announcing themselves will now crown a new world champion.

And here is the Fox News summary (Sweden is in yellow jerseys). You can see the excellent performance of the Swedish goalkeeper, who really saved the game for Sweden (see the saves at 88:44, 95:16, and 100:53, and all the saves of the penalty kicks).

Here’s who’s left. Colombia still has a chance!


For want of a goal, Germany is eliminated by South Korea in the Women’s World Cup; Morocco and Colombia advance

August 3, 2023 • 1:00 pm

What a tournament: upset over upset! And one of them was Germany’s tie with South Korea, 1-1, a result that sent the team packing back to Deutschland—their first ever failure to leave the group stage. And although Colombia lost to Morocco, 1-0, the gutsy Colombians get to stay in. Sixteen teams remain in the knockout round, with fifteen total games left to give us a champion.

From the NYT:

Germany will of course have known the math: A win was all that was required to ensure passage to the round of 16 of the Women’s World Cup. But Canada had known the math, too, and went out anyway. So did Brazil and New Zealand and Portugal, all gone for the want of a single precious goal that never came.

Yet a World Cup that has had some improbable moments — Jamaica eliminating Brazil, the U.S. team advancing thanks to a single, favorable bounce — got perhaps its biggest stunner so far on Thursday: Germany, the second-ranked team in the world, is out after the strangest finish to the group stage in its history, two games requiring only one win, and in which it got none.

South Korea, a team that was effectively eliminated before the match even kicked off, a team that had not scored a goal before in the tournament before Thursday, took an early lead and then held on for a tenacious, improbable, almost unthinkable 1-1 tie with Germany. That result was not good enough for the Germans only because Morocco, another unlikely contender, beat Colombia, 1-0, on Anissa Lahmari’s goal off a rebound from a saved penalty kick.

Here are the highlights of the Germany-South Korea game:

And here are the highlights of Morocco’s 1-0 victory over Colombia. Morocco scored after a failed penalty kick rebounded:

Here’s the upcoming schedule. With several of its toughest opponents out, the U.S., which plays Sweden on Sunday, has a fighting chance to win it all:

David French of the NYT on Title IX and women’s sports

June 26, 2023 • 11:00 am

One touchstone to determine if someone is an extreme gender activist (and by “extreme” I mean “unreasonable”) is to ask them if trans women, born as biological males, should be allowed to compete against biological females in women’s sports. To me, a “yes” answer means that somebody is not only ignoring the palpable data on the physical advantages of transwomen due to having gone through male puberty, but is also okay with the obvious unfairness this physical difference can impose on women athletes.  As the number of transgender people is increasing exponentially, this issue is not going to go away.

Of course there should be some accommodation to allow transgender women to compete in sports (we’re talking about trans women here as the problem doesn’t arise in the other direction). People who want to compete should not be stifled in their desire. The problem is how to allow trans women to compete without being unfair to biological women athletes. Various solutions have been suggested, including allowing a “women’s” league and a “men’s” league, with the latter allowing all trans people to compete.  None of the solutions are completely satisfactory, but they are fairer to biological women and do allow trans individuals to engage in sports competition.

This article by NYT op-ed writer David French goes over the problem, recognizing that the participation of trans women in women’s athletics is both unjust and, under present regulations, illegal.

Click to read:

French first goes over Title IX, what it stipulates (i.e., no denial of educational opportunities to either sex), and explains why sex is different from race when it comes to athletics, where separate competitions are of course not allowed (within a sex):

Let’s go back to the language of the statute itself, which speaks in terms of both “participation” and “benefits.” If you treat people of different races the same, people of all races can both participate and receive the benefits of participation in athletics. If you treat people of different sexes the same, the reality is very different.

The evidence is overwhelming that there is a significant average difference between male and female athletic performance, including at the most elite levels and even when female athletes receive funding, training and nutrition comparable to that of the best male athletes. In a 2020 article in The Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy, the authors, Doriane Lambelet Coleman, Michael J. Joyner and Donna Lopiano, observed that “depending on the sport and event, the gap between the best male and female performances remains somewhere between 7 to 25 percent; and even the best female is consistently surpassed by many elite and nonelite males, including both boys and men.”

The authors walk through a number of examples of disparate performance, but here’s one: Vashti Cunningham is one of the best female high jumpers in the world. Her best jump places her in the world’s top 10 among females. But in 2019 alone, 760 American high school boys jumped higher than she did when she was in high school.

It’s easy to find similar statistics in professional sports. Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines, who’s been heroic in speaking out for women’s rights to compete against only other biological women, notes that both Venus and Serena Williams, beacons of excellence in women’s tennis, were beaten by the #203 ranked male tennis player. That of course is not to denigrate their remarkable abilities. It’s just that biological men and women differ in so many aspects of musculature, physiology, and bone density that this kind of result is inevitable.

Connecticut is one of the states that have a misguided law allowing trans women to compete against biological women in athletics. In that state there’s now a case in which four women, former track athletes in high school, have brought a suit against the law in federal court. After an initial rejection of their claim on specious grounds of plaintiff’s “lack of standing”, the full Connecticut appellate court took up the case and is deciding it now.  This is something that’s probably destined in the end for the U.S. Supreme Court. And, sadly, the ACLU is on the side of the state.


To be clear, the question was not whether the transgender girls did anything wrong — casting any aspersions on their participation in the races would be profoundly unjust. They ran the race in accordance with the rules of the race. The question was whether the rules were wrong.

The transgender athletes intervened in the case, with the aid of the A.C.L.U., and argued that “Title IX does not require sex-separated teams or an equal number of trophies for male and female athletes.” They emphasized that the plaintiffs “repeatedly outperformed” the transgender athletes “in direct competition.”

But the argument is not that transgender athletes will always win, but rather that if schools replace sex with gender identity as the relevant criterion for participation, then the statutory sex-based promises of participation and benefits in educational programs will be undermined. (Gender identity, as the A.C.L.U. defined it, is a “medical term for a person’s ‘deeply felt, inherent sense’ of belonging to a particular sex.”)

The Biden administration, unfortunately, is on the side of Connecticut, and is indeed trying to replace sex with gender identity as “the relevant criterion for participation.” An NPR article from April notes that the administration wants to alter Title IX so that “sex” becomes “gender”:

On Thursday, the U.S. Education Department announced a proposed change to Title IX, which prohibits sex-based discrimination in federally funded education programs. The proposal would make it illegal for schools to broadly ban transgender students from sports teams that align with their gender identity, rather than their assigned sex at birth.

The department says the move comes after two years of outreach to stakeholders across the country, and the changes still give schools some flexibility to ban transgender athletes depending on age and sport.

“Every student should be able to have the full experience of attending school in America, including participating in athletics, free from discrimination,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Being on a sports team is an important part of the school experience for students of all ages.”

It also notes this:

The proposed Title IX changes will be published to the Federal Register in the next few weeks, after which it will open for 30 days of public comment. Those are just the first steps in a long process to alter the law. Assuming the proposal survives that process, schools and students will not see the rule changed or enacted for months if not years.

The commenting time is over, but changing the law may be superfluous if the Supreme Court rules on the matter in the meantime.

French ends his piece this way, though I think he fails to realize that “a small number of trans women” may become much larger. And, at any rate, it’s not the number of trans women athletes that matters, but the principle of fairness to biological women athletes.

I’m not a catastrophist. I hate rhetoric that declares that women’s sports will be “destroyed” by the inclusion of a small number of trans women in athletic competition. I hate even more any demonization or disparagement of the trans athletes themselves. When they compete according to the rules of the sport, they are doing nothing wrong. But legal definitions do matter, especially when they are rooted in hard facts, such as the systematic, documented performance gap between the sexes.

All people are created equal, and possess equal moral worth, but we are not all created the same. To protect equal opportunity, there are times when the law should recognize differences. And in the realm of athletics, if we want to both secure and continue the remarkable advances women have made in the 51 years since Congress passed Title IX, it’s important to remember that sex still matters, and sex distinctions in the law should remain.

French may be called a “transphobe” for taking this stand, as I have been, but I reject this characterization. Trans women should have equal rights and treatment in nearly all areas, except for those few places where the difference between biological and trans women really matter.  Those include, beyond athletics, rape counseling, shelters for abused women, and women’s prisons.  After all, every claimed right has to be balanced against potential harm if it’s abused, and that also goes for First-Amendment free speech, which has a number of exceptions.

If you want to keep up with developments in this area, and are on the side of French, you can follow the organization “Sex Matters” or, on Twitter, its vocal exponent Emma Hilton, a developmental biologist and a colleague of Matthew Cobb at the University of Manchester. In the U.S., you can follow Riley Gaines (see video below) or  #SaveWomensSports on Twitter.

Here’s Riley Gaines testifying a few days ago before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She also deals, at the end, with the question of whether her views are transphobic.

Finally, most Americans agree with Gaines, according to a poll conducted in May and reported in the Washington Post:

The poll, conducted May 4 through 17 among 1,503 people across the United States, finds 55 percent of Americans opposed to allowing transgender women and girls to compete with other women and girls in high school sports and 58 percent opposed to it for college and professional sports. About 3 in 10 Americans said transgender women and girls should be allowed to compete at each of those levels, whilean additional 15 percent have no opinion.