NAIA bans male athletes from women’s sports 'to create fairness and competition'

Unsplash/Emilio Garcia
Unsplash/Emilio Garcia

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, an athletics association for small colleges and universities in North America, has adopted a policy of only allowing athletes who were born female to participate in women's sports. 

The NAIA Council of Presidents voted 20-0 on Monday to bar student-athletes born male from women's sports, reportedly in response to a survey conducted last year showing overwhelming support for such a policy among members surveyed. 

"We know there are a lot of different opinions out there," NAIA President Jim Carr told CBS Sports. "For us, we believed our first responsibility was to create fairness and competition in the NAIA."

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"We also think it aligns with the reasons Title IX was created. You're allowed to have separate but equal opportunities for women to compete."

NAIA, which oversees two dozen sports and over 80,000 athletes, has over 240 member colleges, the vast majority of which are private schools. The association is believed to be the first national college governing body to pass such a policy.

"Only NAIA student-athletes whose biological sex is female may participate in NAIA-sponsored female sports," the policy states. Additionally, if a female student "who has not begun any masculinizing hormone therapy may participate without limitation."

"A student who has begun masculinizing hormone therapy may participate without any limitation."

Participation in activities that are "internal" to an institution, such as workouts, practices and team activities, is "at the discretion of the NAIA member institution where the student is enrolled."

"An NAIA institution that has a student-athlete who has begun masculinizing hormone therapy must notify the NAIA national office," the policy states. "The national office will take the necessary steps to provide appropriate privacy protections."

The NAIA policy drew backlash from progressive civil rights groups who contend that it amounts to discrimination and praise from women's sports advocates who argue that allowing biological males in women's sports could erode Title IX opportunities for biological women. 

In recent years, there has been much debate over policies allowing biologically male trans-identified athletes to take part in girls' sports. Critics argue that those born male have, on average, innate unfair advantages over their female opponents, such as denser bones and greater muscle mass.

For example, Lia Thomas, a biological male who identifies as a female, broke women's swimming records and became an NCAA national champion after he transitioned to the women's swimming team at the University of Pennsylvania after competing for three years on the men's team. 

The NAIA announcement comes weeks after over a dozen current and former collegiate athletes filed a lawsuit against the NCAA funded by the Independent Council on Women's Sports. They accused the major collegiate athletics oversight body of violating their rights by allowing biologically male athletes to compete in women's sports.

Currently, 24 states have passed laws banning biological males from participating in scholastic sports competitions designated for females.

Last month, the NXXT Women's Pro Tour announced that it will revise eligibility requirements so that "competitors must be a biological female at birth to participate."

"This decision underscores the organization's commitment to maintaining the integrity of women's professional golf and ensuring fair competition," stated NXXT in March.

"This policy update is the result of comprehensive research, thoughtful deliberation, and extensive consultations with a broad spectrum of stakeholders in the sports community."  

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