© Copyright – 2024 – Athletics Illustrated

Mara (nee Myers) Yamauchi is a retired English distance runner who specialized in the marathon and also raced competitively from the 5000 metres and up to the half-marathon distance events.

She grew up first in Kenya, then England and lived for nine years in Japan. Yamauchi’s personal best in the marathon then was a world-class 2:23:12 — before super shoes. She was the second-fastest British athlete over the marathon distance from April 2006 until Jess Piasecki ran 2:22:25 in Seville in February 2022.

Mara Yamauchi at 2010 NY Half. Photo credit: Shigetoshi Yamauchi.

In January 2022, Yamauchi joined the Advisory Group of Sex Matters, a human rights charity. Its mission is to “promote clarity about sex in law, policy and language in order to protect everybody’s rights.”

She has been actively promoting the protection of the female category in sports in traditional and social media.

The interview

Christopher Kelsall: You have been quite vocal on X and in the media regarding male athletes racing in women’s events, taking podium positions, medals and perhaps prize money.

How much of an issue is it?

Mara Yamauchi: There are two key points here.

1. The fact that an athlete being male who is competing in the Female category may not be known. I know of cases in the UK where males have competed in the Female category and the event organisers were unaware. A male can enter an event in the Female category and unless someone complains or raises this with the event organiser or National Governing Body, he will get away with it. Therefore the true extent and impact are unknown.

2. When one male races in the Female category, it affects a massive number of females. For example, Aayden Gallagher, a boy who ran his first track race just two months ago, won the Oregon state championships girls’ 6A 200m at the weekend. This is the impact: 

  1. Second place Aster Jones was denied the title; and denied becoming a double champion (she won the 100m); and her future races, contracts, team places, sponsorships etc. may be negatively affected.
  2. Third place Sophia Castaneda was denied the silver medal.
  3. Fourth place Emma Townsend was denied the bronze medal.
  4. Fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth-place girls were denied better finish positions in the final. 
  5. Molly Harrison was prevented from advancing to the final.
  6. A girl or girls from Gallagher’s school, McDaniel, was or were denied a team place in the 200m and 400m by Gallagher’s inclusion in the team.
  7. Roosevelt High School was denied third place in the team competition due to Gallagher’s inclusion (in the 400m too).
  8. Four further teams were denied better finish positions in the team competition due to Gallagher’s inclusion (in the 400m too). 
  9. An unknown number of girls may have self-excluded after seeing a boy winning the girls’ 200m. 
  10. An unknown number of parents may have removed their daughters from competing in athletics after seeing a boy winning the girls’ 200m. 
  11. An unknown number of girls may have underperformed because of knowing they had been subjected to unfair competition in their own category. 
  12. All the girls on the all-time lists for i) Oregon State, ii) Portland City and iii) McDaniel School whose personal bests are slower than Gallagher’s will have been pushed down a place on these lists. I understand that Gallagher’s time (23.77) was a McDaniel School record, so all McDaniel girls who have ever competed in the 200m have been bumped down on that all-time list. The previous McDaniel record-holder ran 26.70 in 2008 — nearly three seconds slower. So, we can safely assume that Gallagher’s new school record will never be broken by a girl at this school. The entire purpose of records — an illustration of extraordinary excellence and a motivating goal for future generations of athletes to aspire to break — has gone forever. 
  13. There may be further exclusions which I have overlooked. 

The above is just for the 200m. Gallagher came second in the 400m so the same cascade of exclusion of girls happened in the 400m. 

So when you ask, “How much of an issue is it?” The answer is massive. The above shows the impact of just one male in one event at one competition. Now multiply that by hundreds of males in hundreds of events at hundreds of competitions. Even if the number of males in the Female category is small, the impact is very far-reaching. If I had been made to compete against males as a girl or at any time since I would have left athletics and pursued other activities. The websites www.shewon.org and www.hecheated.org plus this report from Fair Play for Women give some illustration of the impact. 

Also, keep in mind, that in many cases, girls and women are forced, without their consent, to share toilets and changing rooms with the males who subject them to unfair competition in the Female category. It seems likely that this violation of their privacy, safety and dignity will have led to at least some females self-excluding from athletics. 

Finally, asking “How much of an issue is it?” misses the point. The Female category is for females. The entire purpose of it is to exclude male advantage, thereby allowing for fair and safe competition amongst females. The acceptable number of males in the Female category is zero. If you begin the debate about how much of an issue it is, you have already conceded that some males in the Female category is acceptable. 

CK: In regards to male athletes or male trans athletes competing in women’s events, your opinion has nothing to do with athletes who live with Differences in Sexual Development (DSD), like Caster Semenya, yes?

MY: Trans-identifying males and males who have one of the small number of DSDs to which World Athletics’ regulations apply, are different subsets of males. But the fundamental problem is the same. Namely the presence of male advantage in the Female category, causing unfairness for all females and turning what should be the female-only Female category into a mixed-sex category. 

It is a great shame that the media have misled people for many years about the facts of the DSD issue. The athletes to whom the World Athletics regulations apply have XY i.e., male chromosomes, testes (not ovaries), normal levels of testosterone for males, and sensitivity to that testosterone. Claims we often hear such as that they are “women with high testosterone” are incorrect and misleading. I encourage your audience to read the World Athletics regulations carefully if they wish to properly understand this issue.   

CK: Can the issue be resolved with a third category, for those with DSD, those who self-identify as female, when they went through male puberty, as well as trans athletes?

MY: Various possible solutions have been proposed, including a third category, and offering Female and Open categories. My concern about a third category is that it is, in reality, a second male category, as Lord Coe observed recently. This has been very clearly shown by NYRR’s non-binary category. Its top places and prize money have been overwhelmingly won by males, as you would expect since males run on average 10 per cent faster than females. World Aquatics spent a year working on providing a third category which, when it launched, had no takers. This shows that trans-identifying males’ demands to be included in the Female category are really about validating their beliefs that they are women, not about sport. 

I support Female and Open up to a point, but what this amounts to is the reorganising of sport categories to accommodate people who refuse to recognise the immutable reality of their sex. We have to come back to what sport is and why we have categories — to enable fair and safe competition for everyone, not just young, adult, able-bodied males. If we remember that, then the obvious solution is sticking to sex categories — male and female.

On Female and Open, as far as I am aware, nobody has ever asked men if they are happy for their category to be changed to Open. Some men may, understandably, not be happy and why should they be expected to welcome everyone simply because some people refuse to recognise the reality of their sex. This brings us back to keeping sex categories — male and female. I think, in due course, this is what will happen as the tide continues to turn against gender identity ideology. 

With respect to the DSD athletes to whom WA’s regulations apply, they were mistakenly recorded as female at birth although they are male. This is not their fault, and they are not identifying as female in the same way as men who identify as women. I believe they, like everyone, must be welcome and included in sport but not in the Female category because they have male advantage.  

Females who identify as trans are often forgotten in this debate, and it is important to remember that many of them remain in the Female category. This is absolutely fine as long as they are not on testosterone. It is obvious why they do this — because they would have a cat in hell’s chance of achieving anything in the Male category. If trans-identifying females can stay in the category of their sex, why can’t trans-identifying males do the same? The answer is that for them, sport is all about validating their beliefs that they are women. 

CK: Semenya sought a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) result based on discrimination against her. However, the intent to protect the Female category by World Athletics is the opposite of discrimination. In your opinion, Is this the end of the Semenya case?

MY: As I understand it, Semenya’s latest legal action is about the Government of Switzerland’s actions, not about World Athletics’ DSD regulations. I support the WA regulations because I believe athletes with male advantage do not belong in the Female category. WA stated that their regulations “are a necessary, reasonable and proportionate means of protecting fair competition in the female category.” I agree with them. 

Semenya seems intent on continuing legal action so I doubt it is the end. I had hoped WA’s regulations of March 2023 would be the end of male athletes with DSDs competing in the Female category. But World Athletics has approved at least two to compete in the Female category, so it is not the end. 

What about the Caster Semenya case?

CK: In regards to Semenya’s case: ELIGIBILITY REGULATIONS FOR TRANSGENDER ATHLETES (Version 2.0, approved by Council on 23 March 2023, and coming into effect on 31 March 2023), it appears that the ECtHR hinted at the idea that because International Sports Federations did not have clear written policies (yet), on defining the categories and protecting the Female category, that it was not discrimination, but lack of policy.

Once this case is put to rest, as it is binding, will governments follow or will this require a long cascade of lawsuits against for example Title IX in the US?

MY: You’d need to ask a lawyer for a definitive answer as I am not legally trained. However, it is absolutely clear and irrefutable that for females to have any chance of fair and safe sport, there must be a female-only Female category.

There can also, in addition, be mixed-sex sport for those who want it. However, the Female category is the inclusion measure for females. Therefore if you allow males into it, the Female category ceases to exist and instead becomes a mixed sex category. We have seen various attempts to destroy the Female category in different countries, including Biden’s rewrite of Title IX and the capitulation of numerous sport Governing Bodies in the UK to pressure from trans activist organisations. Laws and the legal system vary from country by country. But what is fundamental is that females must have a female-only Female category in sport. Anyone advocating for males of any kind in the Female category, by whatever means, is trying to destroy fair and safe sport for females. 

World Athletics role

CK: Point 1.3 in the introduction, the following paragraph seems to speak to World Athletics policy as global, regardless of the division in provincial, state and federal laws:

1.3 Since these Transgender Regulations apply globally, regulating the conditions for participation in competitions taking place around the world, insofar as is possible they are to be interpreted and applied not by reference to national or local laws, but rather as an independent and autonomous text, and in a manner that protects and advances the imperatives identified above [female category]. In the event that an issue arises that is not foreseen in these Transgender Regulations, it will be addressed by World Athletics in the same manner.

As youth drop from the sport around the age of puberty, especially females, how can this policy be applied locally to protect the sport, or can it?

MY: WA is the global governing body, not a national body with any national jurisdiction, so it makes sense that what they regulate is athletics at global level. However, WA is the global leader in athletics and many national federations look to them for leadership. It is very good that WA has protected the Female category, and national federations could easily follow WA’s lead. Laws and rules vary across different countries. However, if any country wants its women and girls to have fair and safe athletics, it is obvious what they must do. They need to adopt and then robustly implement and enforce rules, policies and laws requiring that the Female category is for those born female only. The problem is not what to do but leaders summoning up the courage to do it and facing down pressure from those demanding male access to the Female category.

In the UK, UK Athletics (UKA) followed WA’s lead and banned all post-puberty males from the Female category in all licensed events from 31 March 2023. This is a good policy but the problem is enforcement. Even now, 14 months on, there continue to be males competing in licensed events in the Female category. One trans-identifying male, Sian Longthorpe, told a podcast in Nov 2023 — seven months after UKA’s new policy came into force — that he was writing to race directors asking them to let him run “as a woman.” As long as he did not win a prize. By doing this, he has shown contempt for the rules. Contempt for UKA’s role as the national governing body, for fairness, for female athletes, and for the purpose of categories. It is clear from this and other incidents (e.g., another male repeatedly racing against UKA rules in the Female category) that these males refuse to take “no” for an answer. Therefore, the NGBs and Race Directors must find some courage and robustly defend the Female category.  

Having said, “WA is the global leader,” nothing is stopping national, regional, state, county and school federations from adopting rules which protect the Female category. For example, World Triathlon allows males in the Female category but British Triathlon has adopted a different policy protecting the Female category in the UK. All it takes is a bit of courage and caring about women and girls. It is encouraging to see, despite Biden’s rewrite of Title IX, that many state governments in the US have adopted state laws protecting the Female category.  

I also want to highlight that some policies (for example that of UK Athletics) only apply to males who have gone through puberty. However, there are performance differences between the sexes even before puberty. Greg Brown’s paper is excellent on this. Therefore, even before puberty, girls must have female-only sports.   

CK: What is the best solution to prevent male-born athletes from competing in female events?

MY: A combination of:

a) clear, robust and watertight policies which require the Female category to be for females at birth only; and

b) vigorous and well-funded enforcement of those policies by all authorities (governing bodies, event organisers and others).

If a) is clearly explained and defended, it will deter many males who would otherwise try their luck in the Female category. And if any males do compete in the Female category against the rules, then b) should ensure they are DQed and given any further appropriate sanctions e.g., bans from the sport altogether.

What would also help is more people speaking up in defence of fair and safe sport for women and girls. I have been absolutely shocked by the sheer cowardice displayed by so many on this issue, including Race Directors of prestigious races, female former elite athletes, and even fathers of daughters. I know of one female former elite athlete who complained bitterly to me about having had to compete against dopers. Now she is enabling, facilitating and encouraging a male who competes in the Female category. In other words, she cares about fairness for herself but is happy for other women and girls to suffer unfairness against males.

Another female former elite athlete has built an entire career on the struggles of being a female in elite athletics, yet she also supports males in the Female category. These women are effectively pulling the ladder up behind them so that girls and young women who come after them cannot progress to a high level and enjoy the resulting rewards, as they did. It is absolutely incomprehensible to me.         

Online abuse

CK: At the start of the interview I referenced your activity on X. It seems that you are getting good support. How about online abuse, is this an issue?

MY: Yes, very much so. My first major experience of online abuse came from male runner David Melly, who in Dec 2021 tried to get me fired from my commentating role for BBC Sport on the London Marathon. He later deleted his X account and started a new one to cover his tracks. Being male, of course, this will never affect him.

Another prominent male athlete, this one British, also abused me online. Any man who has reached a high level in athletics knows in their bones what male advantage is. They could, through all this, have defended their female peers and our need for fair and safe competition. Instead, they abused me for speaking up. I have received several death threats, constant trolling online, lost work and had to cancel my book launch after it was targeted by trans rights activists. All for the “crime” of defending fair and safe sport for women and girls. What this abuse shows is that this is actually a men’s rights movement and many of its staunchest defenders present themselves as ‘progressive’ when actually they are simply misogynists.  

CK: Is there anything that you would like to say to create a better understanding of your perspective for those who are abusive online?

MY: Yes.

1. I support everyone, including trans people, being welcome and included in sport. But categories exist for good reason. Namely enabling everyone (not just young adults, able-bodied males) to be included fairly and safely in sport. Categories only make sense if they are based on things which affect our physical abilities, namely sex, age, weight (in some sports) and types of disability. Categories based on things which have no relevance to our physical abilities, including how one identifies, one’s religion, voting preference, star sign etc., are meaningless nonsense. I accept anyone’s right to identify however they wish. But sport and its core foundations — fairness and safety — cannot be thrown in the bin simply to validate some people’s identities.

2. I encourage everyone to read about the wider gender identity ideology movement and its impact on women in areas other than sport, namely prisons, rape crisis centres, domestic violence refuges, toilets, changing rooms etc, and also its impact on the safeguarding of children. I recommend Helen Joyce’s book Trans, especially the section on autogynephilia, Linda Blade and Barbara Kay’s book Unsporting, plus the websites of Sex Matters, Fair Play for Women, the Women’s Rights Network and ICONS.

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