Gender identity has no place in sport

By Mara Yamauchi and Robert Johnson
November 8, 2022

For nearly 50 years, New York has been known as a trailblazer for women’s sports. Back in 1973, the US Open became the first major tennis tournament to pay men and women equal prize money. Eleven years later, when the New York City Marathon began officially offering prize money, the men’s and women’s prize money was also the same. Good luck seeing equal pay for men and women in professional golf, basketball, or soccer any time soon.

Sadly, things have now gone backwards in the name of inclusion.  At Sunday’s TCS New York City Marathon, male runners were paid more in prize money than female runners.  Why? Because the NYC Marathon made the decision to pay prize money to non-binary runners for the first time, following the introduction of the non-binary category in 2021, and unsurprisingly all of that prize money was taken by runners who are biologically male. Paying out non-binary prize money is a mistake and is discriminatory against females.

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The non-binary winner

Offering male, female and non-binary as categories of competition conflates sex (immutable and consisting of two, male and female) with gender identity (fluid and difficult to define). The two are not the same. A non-binary category also introduces something which is totally irrelevant in sport — belief — as a sports category. Other beliefs, such as religion or political affiliation, are as irrelevant in sport as the belief that one is non-binary. Elite sporting events do not offer separate prize money based on religion or political affiliation because we recognize those divisions are not meaningful for elite competition. The same should be true of gender identity.

A non-binary category discriminates against females because males run, on average, about 10% faster than females (the women’s world record is 2:14:04; thousands of men have run faster). So females in the non-binary category are not competing on a level playing field.

The NYRR will, according to its rules, pay out $9,000 in non-binary prize money from Sunday’s marathon. Compared to the $534,000 on offer in total for the men’s and women’s categories,  it is a small amount, so why quibble, you might think. But at smaller NYRR races like the Brooklyn Half Marathon, prize money is now equal this year across all three categories – men, women, and non-binary. If the NYRR decides to do the same with its marathon, then it seems likely that male athletes will in most years take home two-thirds of the prize money.

And yet this is being promoted as progress?

What exactly is the prize money in the non-binary category rewarding? It’s not athletic excellence as the winner of the non-binary category in New York only ran  2:45:12 (the men’s and women’s winners clocked 2:08:41 and 2:23:23, respectively). In the women’s open division, South African Olympian Gerda Steyn ran nearly 15 minutes faster – 2:30:22  – to finish 12th and yet she received no prize money. If the non-binary winner had been in the men’s category in NYC this year, they would have finished 147th. $15,000 was supposed to be paid out to non-binary runners but only two non-binary runners managed to break the 3:10 cutoff for prize money.

A person’s gender identity does not change their biological sex. Sex, not gender identity, is the primary determinant as to why males are better than females in sports. Gender identity should have nothing to do with competitive sports. The comparison of gender identity to religious belief is apt as it’s extremely important to some, not important at all to some and subject to change. If the NYRR wants to have a non-binary division in the name of inclusiveness, then that is their right, but it is discrimination against females and goes against the very essence of sport – fair competition in categories that are relevant to sport.

Mara Yamauchi is a two-time Olympic marathoner for Great Britain who was sixth at the 2008 Olympics. Robert Johnson is the co-founder of LetsRun.com. He once helped pace Catherine Ndereba to her world record in the marathon and was the men’s distance coach at Cornell University from 2002-2012.

Talk about this column in the LetsRun.com messageboard. MB: I’ve published a column with Olympian Mara Yamauchi as my guest co-author: Gender identity has no place in sport.

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