Bias does not exist, bring on the sportsball!

So you’re presumably familiar with Sha’Carri Richardson who will miss the Olympics. What I did not know is that the test she “failed” is notoriously inaccurate. We can say what we want about banning marijuana and not gewurztraminer (and I’ve said plenty this week), but this thing looks a whole lot worse when we find out the test isn’t even accurate:

Ryan Marino, an actual scientific expert on the topic, brings the knowledge on the subject of immunoassays.

Now, I don’t know Marino from a hole in the ground, but his twitter bio says this:

Human Doctor • Toxicology • Addiction • Emergency • #WTFentanyl & more often just WTF • drugs are misunderstood but people are misunderstood more • he/him

Other statements appear to show that his expertise extends specifically to how drug evidence is collected, assessed, and used. Unless this is all bullshit, he seems to be exactly the person to whom we should be listening, and he’s telling us not merely that IOC rules are not law (something outside his area of expertise and not necessarily all that relevant to the discussion of whether sports can ban athletes for breaking their rules) but also that in this case the conclusion simply isn’t justified. I think the ban on THC is stupid, and was stupid even before liberalization of marijuana laws, but if you’re banning people for rule violations when you can’t prove the rule was actually violated, that’s straight up fucked.

But as bad as this is, it gets worse.

Wait, worse? How can it get worse than banning a woman from competing because she maybe but probably didn’t but maybe voluntarily ingested a legal substance that impairs athletic performance, not enhances it? I mean, there’s no good test for use of nitrous oxide since it disappears from the system quite quickly. Its transport and use are regulated. It would have to impair athletic performance, I would think, though I doubt many studies have been done on the topic. Since anyone might have taken nitrous oxide during this athletic season and no test will conclusively tell us yay or nay, all the athletes might have used nitrous oxide, so… let’s just ban everyone? I mean, the reasoning for banning Richardson is so terrible it just can’t get worse, can it?

Well yes. Yes it can. For the very reason that the stupid reasoning for banning Richardson could ban every athlete (so long as you pick the right substance) this is not nearly as bad as stupid reasoning that is used specifically to limit the participation of Black women in sport:

Swim caps which fit tight to a hair covered head are now banned… if the hair is thick and curly.

The International Swimming Federation has decided that swim caps can include extra room for long hair, so long as it’s long, thin straight hair. But as soon as you need extra, extra room because your hair is long, thick, and curly, then despite the fact that the cap over long, natural Black hair gives no competitive advantage compared to a cap over long, natural straight hair, ethnic Danes are essentially permitted long hair while many Black women are not. They are forced to choose between keeping their hair and competing in the Olympics.

Note that the rule about swim caps conforming to the contours of the head is designed to prevent people from wearing some hydrodynamically optimized solid form shape to break the water for your, rather than just to cover your hair & prevent it from getting in your eyes and catching on your arms & fingers. The so called “soul caps” do nothing of the sort. They’re not optimized. They aren’t designed to grant a competitive advantage relative to other swimmers. They are designed to give the same advantages (and disadvantages, if any) to people with voluminous, incompressible hair as already are granted to people with shaved heads or thinner, more compressible hair.

But because of whose hair is seen as normal, the rule now puts Black women at a competitive disadvantage to many if not most other ethnic groups of women around the world. Not at all incidentally, this is a rule that specifically gives a competitive advantage to white women over Black women.

This is, of course, exactly the type of “neutral” rule that produces racial inequality of opportunity in our postracism world. And it seems fucked up, yeah. But how can you argue with it? If only we had some sort of field of study that sought to understand when neutral rules produce an unjust, imbalanced society that privileges one race and punishes another. Maybe then we would have a better shot at creating a just society.


Protecting women in sport.

More women, women whom everyone agrees are women, are being banned from the Olympics because, in the Orwellian language of cis supremacy:

They are said to not be eligible for female classification.

When the trans (women) exclusionary reactionary people go off on how sex is binary, and none of your counter examples prove that sex is not binary because sex is mostly binary so we’re better off pretending that it’s **all** binary, what the TWERPs really mean is this: I don’t care about the lives of some women.

Your gender totalitarianism is killing the dreams of 5 great women athletes. Meanwhile, one trans athlete will be competing in the Olympics this year, and they will be the first ever out trans athlete to do so. I’m just guessing here, but it seems to me that one trans athlete cannot displace more than one non trans athlete. So just this year (not counting how many dreams were smashed in past years before even one trans athlete competed in the Olympics) the policy is five times worse for cis women than the current trans inclusive rules.

Even if you’re a TWERP who hates trans people and believes cis women are fragile flowers to be protected against a lingering aura of adolescent testosterone lest they wilt, your policies are not helping cis women.

Gods, it’s been 25 years and more now that I’ve been saying this, but the current rules require invasive examinations of sexed body parts of all the non trans athletes just so that they have the opportunity to prove that they aren’t trans. It is shocking to me that people who call themselves feminists would subject women to the Nassars of this world just to have the opportunity to exclude (or even merely regulate) trans participation.

When people speak of fairness in sport as a reason to ban trans participation, I will think of Sha’Carri Richardson. I will think of swimmers’ soul caps. I will think of Mboma, Masilingi, Semenya, Niyonsaba, and Wambui.

We aren’t fair. We choose not to be fair. And we choose not to be fair for the very, very worst of reasons.

ETA: Important update. While Sha’Carri Richardson’s suspension was based off an inaccurate test, and we should still be questioning not merely why we suspend athletes for marijuana use, but also why we should base any suspension on unreliable evidence, Richardson has apparently admitted that she used marijuana in Oregon, where recreational use is legal. Any question about whether she actually used THC can be safely retired, but the important moral issues remain.


  1. John Morales says

    Good post. Only thing with which I didn’t click was the claim that it’s discriminatory to Black hair. But then, I’m not one to reliably judge that sort of thing.

    In local news:

    (So the sentiment is widespread, and this is apparently an actual issue)

    And yes, the dreaded ‘drug’ thing.

    (Tobacco and alcohol are just dandy; indulge away, O athletes, and compete!)

  2. says

    I didn’t hear about Mboma and Masilingi until this morning, but absolutely agree. New Zealand’s white weightlifter Laurel Hubbard forcibly modified her body in order to compete, but two cisgender and naturally talented Black athletes are banned.

    The IOC, WADA and other “sports bodies” are sending a clear message: “global north athletes are amazing, global south athletes are all cheaters”. And when they use the terms “global north” and “global south”, Hubbard counts as “global north”.

  3. Jean says

    A many have posted all over the internet today, Michael Phelps should be considered outside the norm since his body produces half the lactic acid as the other competitors which is a significant advantage as he can recuperate much faster. Of course, since he is a member of the default human type (white male), there is no need to check if he conforms to any norm or classification.

  4. says

    As the Michael Phelps example shows, a lot of elite athletes will be genetic outliers. Training obviously helps. But basketball for example will always favour tall people.

    As for equipment, what does and doesn’t count as ‘unsporting’ enhancements is pretty arbitrary. It’s not like we naturally have spikes on our feet, so why are running shoes allowed?

    Maybe they could run the Olympics like bodybuilding? You have some competitions where anything goes, and then separate ‘natty’ ones for people who don’t use PEDs or other ‘artificial’ advantages. I’d probably be more interested in sport if they allowed drug fuelled cyborgs.

  5. says

    IOC rules are not laws, but they can be made into laws with enough lobbying. Testosterone medication was approved by the FDA in 1939. It is prescribed to treat a wide range of conditions in both cis men and cis women, and it is listed as an “essential medication” by the World Health Organization. For most of the time it has been in use, purchase of testosterone in the U.S. has required a prescription (rightfully so, since it should be taken with the supervision of a doctor). But in 1990, Congress reclassified testosterone as a controlled substance.

    There was no medical basis for making testosterone a controlled substance. Putting aside all the other issues inherent to the U.S. CS system, there were no new discoveries about possible risks of testosterone that prompted making it a controlled substance. It is no more dangerous than other prescription-only non-controlled medicines. The reason it is a controlled substance is due entirely to lobbying by the IOC and their members. Many (though not all, see below) IOC-affiliated sports leagues prohibit athletes from taking testosterone unless they have a prescription. The IOC demanded that their rule be made into a law, and that law applies even to people who have no interest in participating in competitive sports.

    Testosterone is a “schedule III” substance, so it is possible to legally get a prescription. But insurance companies use its status as a CS as an excuse to deny coverage or ramp up co-pays, particularly for the “wrong kind of person” (i.e., trans or black people).

    As a private organization, the IOC has a right to impose arbitrary rules on their members, with the penalty for violating those rules being kicked out. But their organization rules should not be imposed on the rest of society. There’s an analogy to be made with the churches who want to impose their doctrine on people who aren’t in their club.

    It’s hard to believe I’m saying this, but the sports leagues that want to regulate testosterone should look to the example of the FIDE. The FIDE adopted doping rules in 2001, mainly so that chess could become an Olympic game. They do not prohibit the use of testosterone, but they do prohibit unsafe levels of caffeine. Can you imagine how much outrage there would be if the FIDE asked congress to make it a crime to possess caffeine without a prescription? The FIDE rightly knows they can only impose their drug rules on their own members, and that they need to do the enforcing themselves.

    As a side note, notice how the current media landscape is using sports as an excuse to attack trans women. However, sports have been used as a justification to hurt trans men for more than 30 years, and it’s been happening without much media attention.

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