ICONS International Women’s Sports Summit 2023 Calls For Grassroots Activism to Protect Female Athletes


“The university subjected 40 girls to sexual harassment to be in a situation where we are present with a man with male anatomy while we’re undressing,” said Paula Scanlan

Washington, DC, July 25, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Press Release

ICONS International Women’s Sports Summit 2023
Calls For Grassroots Activism to Protect Female Athletes


DENVER — From Olympians and lawyers, to everyday people, everyone needs to be a force in the effort to protect women’s sports for female athletes, said leaders of the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS) and the International Consortium on Female Sport (ICFS) during their International Women’s Sports Summit 2023. The nonpartisan, one-of-a-kind summit — which ran from July 21 to 23 in Denver, Colorado, and streamed live on social media — featured world-class athletes; globally renowned experts in science, academia, and law; governing sports bodies, and various advocacy groups who addressed sport-specific concerns surrounding male participation in women’s athletics.

Many female athletes — some of whom have already lost competitions, funding, and scholarships to men at women’s events — spoke about their experiences of feeling shock, shame, humiliation, and abandonment by sporting authorities who once championed women’s sports. “I felt helpless,” said Yale University swimmer Raime Jones, who lost twice against a male competitor only to have school officials tell her to remain silent about it.

“The university subjected 40 girls to sexual harassment to be in a situation where we are present with a man with male anatomy while we’re undressing,” said Paula Scanlan, a former UPenn swimmate of male athlete Lia Thomas. She recalled how team practice twice a day left the women exposed to a man as they changed in and out of their swimsuits. “I had nightmares every single week that I was there on that team,” she said.

For North Carolina high school volleyball player and Independent Women’s Forum Spokeswoman Payton McNabb — who is urging state lawmakers to pass a bill to keep women’s sports female — a serious head injury from a women’s game involving a male competitor has had a life-altering impact. “I still suffer from partial paralysis on my right side, vision problems, cognitive issues, constant headaches, and more,” said McNabb, whose teammates were “forced by our state athletic association” to play against a man, she said. “This incident was 100% avoidable if only my rights as a female athlete had not been excluded on the basis of being inclusive to allow a biological male who self-identifies as a female to compete with women,” McNabb said.

With perspectives from the US, UK, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as South Africa, Mexico, and Spain, experts agreed women cannot have safe or fair sport competitions if a subset of men are permitted to compete against them. “The strongest reasons for protecting a level playing field in women’s sports are ethical reasons,” said sports attorney William Bock, JD, who served as General Counsel of the US Anti-Doping Agency. “A boy is not a girl, a man is not a woman, and males competing in the female category of sport undermines the primary ethical rationale for competitive sport because it’s objectively not fair.”

Summit sessions highlighted the current science-backed evidence for prioritizing fairness and safety, with presentations from evolutionary biologists Dr. Carole Hooven and Dr. Colin Wright, ethics Prof. John Pike, biology Prof. Emma Hilton, and ICFS co-founder and longtime coach Dr. Linda Blade among the scholars. “Women’s sport is based on biological differences,” said World Rugby Head Scientist Dr. Ross Tucker. “Even when males and females are matched for mass and height, males outperform females by very large margins,” he said, citing data from different scenarios. “Male advantage is not one thing — it’s many things.”

Dr. Helen Joyce, author of Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality and director of Sex Matters advocacy group, pointed to the “misogynistic idea” that “women are defective men” as the underpinning notion that “men can have surgery or lower their testosterone and then become women for purposes of sport,” she said.

The audience heard the long-lasting, disempowering impact unfair play has on women and girls, and how, conversely, a strong support network can uplift them to greater achievement. Riley Gaines, a multi-champion swimmer, former University of Kentucky team captain, and Independent Women’s Voice advisor, said female competitors are seeking “the bare minimum” with safe dressing spaces and “the right to vocalize their own thoughts and opinions” regarding decisions in their sports category without fear of punishment.

With just 12 women’s sports lawsuits currently filed in the US, speakers encouraged women and girls to join advocacy groups to collectively ensure the national Title IX law and governing sports bodies like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) protect women’s sports. “Human stories matter; they impact policymaking,” said Christiana Kiefer, JD, who represents three female athletes as the lead attorney in several Title IX and women’s sports cases. “Their stories really inspired state lawmakers across the country in that first wave in passing women’s sports laws, so you never know how your story and simply being public about it can impact, frankly, the course of history.”

ICONS seeks to expand, empower, and protect women’s sports and female athletes nationwide and abroad. Its mission is to create a powerful network of collegiate and professional female athletes and their allies to defend the original intent of Title IX, which upholds and preserves women’s rights to equal opportunity and fair play in their sex-based sports category.

“We can’t have some countries in sporting events bringing men to compete against women,” said ICONS co-founder Marshi Smith, an NCAA champion swimmer. “There can’t be different policies around the world. We need a universal place for women’s accomplishments.”

Activism starts any time, anywhere. Join us in lending your voice to women who have felt powerless in speaking up against the emergence of an uneven playing field within their own competitions. You can learn more at https://www.iconswomen.com. Donations can be made to https://donorbox.org/independent-council-on-women-s-sports.

For more information or questions, please contact [email protected].
Media inquiries: [email protected]. Follow us:     @icons_women

CONTACT: Marshi Smith Independent Council on Women's Sports 702-323-4516 [email protected] 

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