“What I was trying to avoid more than anything, in all honesty, was to stop a death.” Sharron Davies is summing up why she chose to make the fight for fair women’s sport her hill to die on 30 years on from her Olympic swimming career.
As one of the most vocal opponents of transgender athletes competing in women’s sport Davies has taken a barrage of abuse and lost work and sponsors. She has even seen her children’s school targeted by activists.
But the tide has turned and more and more sports have moved into line with her thinking. Cycling this year joined athletics, swimming and rugby in outlawing trans athletes from women’s competition.
She feels vindicated but her crusade is not done until the whole of sport goes the same way. “Sport is a physical activity. It’s all about the body and the engine that you’ve got so it needs to be based on biology,” she said.
“We all knew eventually this would have to stop but what I was trying to do by speaking up was to stop it as soon as possible so there was the least amount of collateral damage. We’re not there yet. We still have six contact sports in the UK that allow men to self-identify. Fighting sports. That’s insane.
“Men hit 160 per cent harder than women of equal weight. They are much more explosive and they are making contact with a much less dense bone structure.”
Her book on the subject ‘Unfair Play: The Battle For Women’s Sport’ was shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award last week. It is a forensic analysis of why the biological advantages trans women carry from going through male puberty renders the playing field too uneven to use.
“The book was never coming from the angle that we didn’t want everyone to be involved in sport, it was coming from the angle that we wanted to work with science and with facts. We just wanted to make sure that all those facts were heard,” she said. “I wanted women to be able to fight back and claw back what they were losing – the ability to play fair sport. If this was happening to men they would not put up with it.
“Women in sport have had such a struggle – just in the UK 1,000 women earn their living from sport compared to 11,000 men. So sport for women is still incredibly badly represented and we have to work so hard for what we have.”
Cases like that of Lia Thomas, who won the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the US college championships last year for the University of Pennsylvania after competing for three years on the men’s team, has caused huge controversy.
She cannot now fulfil her dream of swimming for the USA women’s team at next summer’s Olympics but given the stridency of counter-opinion from the lobby who see trans bans as discriminatory it has been an uncomfortable struggle.
Davies was never going to back down on a subject she feels so vexed about – you don’t become an Olympic silver medallist without tenacity – but the fight has been as tough as rising to the top in his swimming career in an era when East German doping was rife.
“They are different versions of hard but I think that same spirit and bloodymindedness and determination gets used in both instances without a shadow of a doubt,” she said.
“Sport taught me to be extremely resilient and I’ve had to be very, very resilient.
“I still get stick but I get way more support. I get people stopping me in the street, I get cars pulling over and people winding their windows down to say thankyou all the time.”
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