Sports

We Must Protect Women’s Sports

Joe Biden’s recent executive order was framed as a matter of transgender rights. But really, it was an attack on women’s rights.

When I was a teenager, tennis was my life.

I started playing when I was ten. By the time I was 13, it was all I wanted to do. I practiced 24/7. A lot of days, my parents wouldn’t see me — I’d be up and at the courts before dawn, and back after dusk. On weekends, I got up extra early because our small South Carolina town only had a few courts. I wanted to make sure I got one before someone else did.

I wasn’t the best player at my high school. I was never first seed. But I was good enough to make the team. My dream was to be on the U.S. women’s team and meet my sports heroes, Chrissie Evert and Martina Navratilova. Of course, I never would have made it — I clearly didn’t! — but I still had hope. Frankly, I would have been just as happy to be the best at my school.

Will today’s young girls have that hope? Will they have any chance of being the best in their schools, much less in their districts or states? I worry many won’t, and not just in tennis. Across the sporting world, the game is being rigged against women and in favor of biological men.

President Biden is the latest man to do the rigging, which is strange coming from someone billed as a defender of women. In one of his first acts as president, he signed an executive order paving the way for a federal mandate that all schools receiving federal funding let biological men play on women’s sports teams. The order was framed as a matter of transgender rights. But really, it was an attack on women’s rights.

Generations of women fought hard to ensure that their daughters and granddaughters had a level playing field, because girls deserve the same chance as boys to play sports. Thanks to the efforts of countless feminists, the number of women’s teams in schools has taken off over the past 50 years. Before then, less than 4 percent of girls played a sport. Now 40 percent do.

My generation was one of the first to benefit from these victories. My daughter’s generation has reaped the rewards, too. But Biden’s actions will roll back those victories and put women at a disadvantage. Now, when a girl steps up to compete, she’ll have to ask herself: Who am I really competing against?

Transgender kids deserve support and respect. The fact remains, however, that biological boys and girls are built differently. The best male athletes have a natural advantage over the best female athletes. You have to ignore science not to see it. The world’s fastest female sprinter has nine Olympics medals, but nearly 300 high-school boys are still faster than her. In states where biological boys compete against girls, the girls almost always lose — not just the match, but also possible college scholarships and a lifetime of success in their favorite sport. Their chance to shine is being stolen.

I approach this issue as a woman and as a mom. When my daughter ran track, I’d go to the meets. I can’t imagine how hard it would’ve been to watch her lose to someone with an unfair advantage. And I hate to think how my daughter would have reacted. She ran because she always felt she had a shot. If she lost that feeling, would she have kept running? Why compete when your best can’t possibly be good enough? Girls across America could be asking themselves these very questions before too long. Some surely already are. On this critical issue, women’s rights are moving in the wrong direction.

If this trend isn’t stopped, the achievements of so many brave women over so many years will be erased. That’s wrong. It’s insulting. And women know it, too, whether they’re retired athletes, middle-aged mothers, or a 16-year-old girl thinking of signing up for swimming. They’re just afraid to speak out, because they know they’ll be silenced and called bigots.

But we’re not bigots. We’re women. And we need to be heard, not silenced. We also need the backing of those who should know better. Most feminists are missing in action right now. They should be on the front lines of this fight. Men should get off the sidelines, too. Men’s sports are unlikely to be affected, but if they were, you’d bet the boys would be up in arms. They should be anyway, standing in solidarity with their wives and girlfriends and daughters and classmates.

Justice and equality are on the line, and common sense is just as important as compassion. Women haven’t run this race only to find we never had a chance to win.

Nikki Haley was governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017 and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 2017 to 2019.

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