Lottie Dod was the world’s first female sports superstar, says Sasha Abramsky in the Daily Mail. She won her first Wimbledon title in 1887, aged 15. Next year the teen sensation repeated the trick. Not everyone was convinced, so the “Little Wonder” challenged the best men’s players of the day to singles games. In her ankle-length dress, clunky leather boots and corset, she crushed six-time Wimbledon champion William Renshaw (6-2, 6-4) and Scottish champion Harry Grove (1-6, 6-0, 6-4).
Medical experts still argued that “too much strenuous exercise could ‘turn’ women into lesbians or damage their womb”. One commentator called ladies’ rallies so dull he could nip out for a country walk. Women were so floozy, one paper argued, that their best chance of winning a match “lay in flirting with the umpires so their sporting flaws would be overlooked”. But Dods won 41 tournaments in singles and 20 more in doubles.
Then she quit the sport at 21 to play hockey for England in 1899, become British national ladies’ golf champion in 1904 and take a silver medal in archery at the London Olympics in 1908. She also became an expert rider, rower and tobogganist – before training as a nurse during the First World War and singing for George V and Queen Mary. In tennis, she raged against dresses that “impede the free movement of every limb” – but lived long enough to see hemlines start to rise. “Petticoats be damned.”
Trans women have an unfair advantage
Laurel Hubbard, 43, is set to become the first transgender Olympian after being selected for New Zealand’s weightlifting team. She has done everything by the book, says Tanya Aldred in The Guardian. She transitioned eight years ago — four more than the IOC’s minimum requirement — and has met the guideline of keeping her testosterone level below 10 nanomoles per litre.
But while I’d love to tell Hubbard she can have it all, the bottom line is that it “isn’t fair”. The most common argument used in favour of inclusion is that sport is all about natural advantage. Being a trans woman is “just another factor to add to the list alongside Michael Phelps’s size 14 feet and double-jointed ankles”. But going through puberty as a man confers an advantage “in a different stratosphere”. Think of all the women who would be forced out. Serena Williams once told David Letterman that were she to play Andy Murray, “I would lose 6-0, 6-0, in… maybe 10 minutes.”
Before her transition, Hubbard set national records in junior men’s events. There is just no proof that reducing testosterone takes away the advantage of muscle mass, strength, lean body mass, muscle size or bone density. One day science might find a way to level the playing field. But if we’re going to say people should self-identify in whatever category they choose, why bother with sex categories at all? “Just put everyone in together and watch biological males win the lot.”