Why I won’t be watching the Tokyo Olympics

@Glesga_keelie says women’s sport is diminished by an IOC policy that puts its idea of inclusion before fairness or biological reality

The first Olympics I remember clearly are the 1976 Montreal Games. They stick in my memory for two reasons: I saw so much of the action because it was the summer holidays and I’d begun to suffer from insomnia because this was the first time I’d ever slept on my own as my Nana, with whom I’d shared a room my whole life, was in hospital for respite care.

Oh, and I developed the most enormous crush on Nadia Comaneci (which rather pointed the way to more adult developments).

I’ve pretty much obsessively watched every Olympics since because, while I have the sporting ability of a stubbed toe, I love to watch sport of all kinds.

And the Olympics are always worth watching for amazing female athletes, from Sharron Davies in 1980 to Tessa Sanderson in ‘84, FloJo in ‘88, Sally Gunnell in ‘92, the US women’s football team in ’96, Denise Lewis in ’00, Kelly Holmes in ’04, Rebecca Adlington in ’08, Jessica Ennis in ’12 and Simone Biles in ’16.

US gymnast Simone Biles at the Rio Olympics in 2016
Rio de Janeiro – Ginasta Simone Biles, dos Estados Unidos, termina com medalha de bronze a prova final da trave (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

A mockery of Olympian ideals

But I won’t be watching any of the action from Tokyo in 2021.

Because the IOC has made a mockery of any Olympian ideal with its “trans inclusion” policy, in place since 2004 but only now having a detrimental effect on women’s sport.

The policy and its recent tweaking to ensure only lower testosterone levels matter means a 43-year-old male-born weightlifter will compete for New Zealand in the women’s heavyweight category – and, by virtue of the enormous physical advantages conferred by male puberty, is favourite to win.

A long way to a level playing field

Women’s right to participate in sport, in their own sports, on the same terms that males have always been able to enjoy is still very new.

When Baron de Coubertin founded the modern Olympics in 1896, he derided the idea of women participating, saying such an event would be “impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper”.

In my lifetime, women have been disbarred from taking part in the marathon.

They were banned in the UK from playing association football for 50 years.

Female tennis players, led by Billie Jean King, had to create a breakaway federation to demand and get equal prize money.

In the US, it took a ground-breaking piece of legislation, Title IX, to ensure that women were not discriminated against on the basis of their sex in any activity, including sport. That opened up the route to college scholarships for the most talented athletes.

A question of equality

Why is that many men in the UK still play football or 5s with their mates well into their 50s and beyond, yet there is no equivalent sporting pastime for women?

Why is funding for women’s sports a fraction of what’s available for men, as it is for sponsorship and commercial opportunities?

Why is it acceptable to the IOC that a person who simply declared they feel like a woman less than a decade ago can take the place of a female athlete and deny her the opportunity of a lifetime?

Forced into u-turn

The athlete who initially did lose a spot in Tokyo is Nini Manumua.

But, embarrassed by the outcry, the Olympics extended a tripartite invitation – essentially a wild-card entry for under-represented countries – and so Nini will compete for Tonga.

She will have to compete against a male athlete more than 20 years her senior in the heavyweight category.

A male athlete who was little more than mediocre when competing in the male category but who is considered favourite for the gold. Whither fairness now, IOC?

Women deserve their own place

The time is long since past when women have to budge up and accept the scraps from the table of sporting federations.

Tokyo 2021 must be the first and last time any female athlete has to compete against male-born competitors in the women’s category.

Until the IOC accepts its policy is inherently unfair to women, my telly remains firmly switched off.

Further reading/resources






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