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Five Olympic rowers condemn USRowing’s Gender Identity Policy which “discriminates against female athletes”

A group of former Olympic rowers are enraged at the updated Gender Identity Policy of USRowing which they say “so blatantly discriminates against female athletes in rowing”. In an article published in Newsweek, they condemned the policy which “rejected fairness for female rowers of all ages and levels”. The three-page US Rowing Gender Identity Policy which became effective from December 1, 2022 permits athletes to compete in the gender they identify with “irrespective of the sex listed on the athlete’s birth certificate or student records, and regardless of whether the athlete has undergone any medical treatment”.


This means that a biological male can compete in girls’ and women’s events with or without testosterone suppression, as long as he identifies as a woman at the start of the rowing season – January 1st for the Spring/Summer season and September 1st for the Fall/Winter season. Meanwhile a biological female who has begun a transition with testosterone should compete in the men’s category. US Rowing said the policy is intended “to foster inclusion, safety, and fairness in rowing” and will be reviewed on an annual basis.

Citing some articles from the National Library of Medicine, the former rowers stressed that “science has unequivocally proven that testosterone suppression—even for years—does not erase the physiological advantages that males have over females”, hence the policy “grossly discriminates against female athletes”.


They added: “USRowing recognises that maintaining biological categories for competition is essential for fairness, but has chosen to apply this principle inconsistently. Racing as a lightweight rower is restricted to a maximum body weight—larger bodies move a boat faster than smaller ones. Master’s racing is set by age categories—younger athletes are faster than older ones.

In the height of irony, USRowing chose to protect fairness based on sex in only one racing category: mixed events. In these competitions, men and women race together in the same boat. USRowing specified that such boats must be 50 percent female. It is the only event in which female sex is an eligibility requirement. Without this sex requirement, a mixed boat could be comprised entirely of males, some of whom identify as women; such a boat would possess an unfair advantage over a boat comprised of 50 percent males and 50 percent females. Hence, in a move that can certainly be viewed as misogynistic, USRowing defined eligibility based on sex only when not doing so could make competition unfair for males.”


The USRowing policy is applicable only to athletes competing in domestic competitions hosted or sanctioned by USRowing.

Collegiate and elite athletes have to comply with World Rowing’s policy which requires transgender women to reduce their testosterone to below 5 nanomoles for at least 12 months to compete in the female category.


Regarding USRowing’s position that an athlete who has begun transition with testosterone belongs in the men’s category, the former rowers said this means the governing body understands that the use of testosterone creates an unfair athletic advantage but has chosen to selectively recognise this for females but not for males.

They recalled representing the United States in Olympic women’s rowing competition at a time when female athletes from the Soviet Union, East Germany, and other Eastern bloc countries doped with testosterone to enhance their performance.


Being first-generation United States Women’s Rowing Olympians, they also remembered some of the discriminations they experienced during their careers and how Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, has in over the last 50 years made a lasting impact on women’s sports.

“We have seen the development of equal opportunity for females and males at nearly all levels of rowing,” they said. “USRowing is now undermining the equality we fought so hard to achieve.”


They explained that USRowing used emotional blackmail to support its updated policy by noting that 45 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year.

“Certainly, this is a startling statistic and anyone suffering with mental health concerns should receive professional medical attention. However, justifying a position of discrimination against females by using concern for the mental health of another group is an unfair and inappropriate burden for females to carry. In essence, females are told by governing bodies that they must subjugate their rights to support the mental health of others. This is nothing short of emotional blackmail and we have first-hand knowledge that many young females are afraid to speak their minds because of it.”


They concluded with this request: “USRowing must change its grossly discriminatory policy and protect the female category. Promoting the rights of one group by destroying the rights of another does not represent a just solution.

Trans athletes can fairly compete in a male/open category. We expect USRowing to immediately rescind its policy and replace it with one that recognises the value of female athletes.”


Mary I. O’Connor, MD is a 1980 US Olympic Rowing Team Member, and chairs ICONS Rowing.

Carol Brown is a 1976, 1980, and 1984 US Olympic Rowing Team Member, before a career in Non-Profit Finance and Administration.

Jan Palchikoff is a 1976 and 1980 US Olympic Rowing Team Member, before embarking on her career in sport and event management.

Patricia Spratlen Etem is a 1980 and 1984 US Olympic Rowing Teams Member, and is a Public Health Policy and Health Workforce Diversity professional, dedicating a career to public service.

Valerie McClain is a 1980 and 1984 US Olympic Women’s Rowing Team Member, and has worked as a Compliance, Ethics, Risk and Governance Officer.

Credit: AIPS 

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