Nowruz Mubarak

Happy New Year, if you happen to be of Persian, Afghan or (many parts of) central Asian origin. To celebrate, here are some images of women athletes from Afghanistan, who have lost the ability to compete since the return of the Taliban to power, but not their desire. I found the protest photos of them in burqas, with their gear, to be very moving. Some have escaped Afghanistan and are continuing their athletic careers. Nowruz Mubarak to all of them: here’s hoping the next year will be better for all women who are unable to participate in sport.

Kimia Yousofi of Afghanistan is now living in Australia. Yousofi, shown running in a black track suit and hijab, was flag bearer for Afghanistan at the Tokyo Olympics.
Image: Christian Petersen/Getty Images


Great News for Diversity in Sports

Figure skating and artistic swimming both made some big changes to their rules this week. In Canada, Skate Canada removed the gender barrier in pairs skating and ice dancing so a pair can be any two people who skate together. Meanwhile, men will be able to compete in the artistic swimming team event at the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Male artistic swimming has a long history, with the first competition in 1892. Male swimmers were also part of the “water pageants” that were popular in the 1930s and 40s, and the first rule book for artistic swimming, written in 1940, stated that “Competitors may be men or women or both.” However, when synchronized swimming was adopted as a sport in the USA in 1941, men and women were separated, in line with other sports overseen by the Amateur Athletic Union. Men competed against other men through the 1950s, but interest waned as the “aqua-musical” movies starring Esther Williams cemented the image of artistic swimming as a feminine activity.

Artistic swimming teams will be allowed to have a maximum of two men on each eight-person team. They have been eligible to compete at the World Aquatics Championships since 2015, in men’s solo, mixed duet and mixed team events. However, there is still no place for elite all-male teams, This leaves only rhythmic gymnastics as an Olympic discipline without both men’s and women’s participation.

Bill May, center, with other members of the U.S. synchronized swimming team at the 2000 Rome Open, where the team won gold and he won the solo competition. May is one of the sport’s greatest male athletes. He won his first US national championship in 1998, and came out of retirement to place first and second in the duet events at the 2015 World Championships. Reuters / Corbis

Figure skating also started out as a male sport, though it didn’t take long for a woman to compete against the men. Just six years after the first world championship in 1896, a British skater named Madge Syers placed second, after noticing that there was no explicit rule barring her from competing. At the very next meeting of the International Skating Union, a rule was put in place barring women from the world championships, though they created a women’s category and finally recognized the winner as a world champion in 1924. By 1908, pairs figure skating was added, with a male and female skater at the 1908 Olympics, Syers won gold in the women’s event and bronze in pairs with her husband Edgar).

Pairs skaters are required to perform certain skills according to their gender: the men must do the lifts and throws, while the women (generally much smaller) are the ones lifted and thrown. The new rules simply list which elements must be performed, but do not assign a gender to who must do them. So far, this change only applies to Skate Canada’s domestic competitions and athletes in the high-perform and Podium Pathway program.

It appears that only Canada has taken this step, although there are rumblings of interest in the USA, where pairs skater Timothy Leduc became the first openly non-binary Olympian at the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year. Skate Canada says that the change is to remove barriers to participation in skating, to ensure that all gender identities are accepted equally.

I wasn’t able to find photo images of pairs skaters in anything except traditional roles. If you some, or have news about other countries looking at changing the rule, please pass them along.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa.


Women’s Hockey Inspiration

Earlier this month, I went with my friend Vicki to a Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA) game. It was awesome!

Tennis legend and PWHPA Investor Billie Jean King made the ceremonial puck drop. I got to see some of my favourite Olympic players, including Brianne Jenner and Sarah Nurse. I also got to watch crowds of girls excited to see their heroes and dream that they might might someday join them as professionals. Every single official was a woman.

Billie Jean King drops the puck as players from both teams look on.
A crowd of girls in winter coats and hats are pressed up against the glass as Olympian Brianne Jenner skates by.

It was so much fun to see Vicki’s enthusiasm too. She spent the entire weekend at the arena, watching several games and doing the adult skills clinic. For her, seeing the players up close and watching how they move on the ice was a real dream. She is pretty sure she smiled for the entire time she was doing drills and asking questions; she couldn’t stop grinning during my time watching the game with her.

Vicki wears her new PWHPA jersey and gives the thumb’s up while standing in a hockey arena.

For me, the best moment was when Vicki told me about a discussion at the end of the skills clinic. Participants had a chance to talk to the players and one of them, Emerance Maschmeyer, told her that while they enjoy hosting clinics for young girls what they really look forward to are the clinics for adult women. She said they are inspired to see the women learning new skills and having such a huge passion for the game. When Emerance found out Vicki’s age (50), her response was that Vicki is old enough to be her mom and “it makes me want to get my mom out playing hockey!”

Sometimes on this blog we get frustrated with all the inequalities that still exist in women’s sport. But things really have changed since Vicki and I were kids. Vicki’s parents tried to enrol her in hockey when she was a kid in Saskatchewan but they were told “girls don’t play hockey”. I wanted to play on the newly-formed girls team when I was about 13, but my parents were the ones who said “girls don’t play hockey”.

Now we have professional players and role models, even if they are paid a pittance compared to the men. There are mixed and girls/women-only leagues. it’s still hard to catch a women’s game, but it is no longer weird.

Vicki Thomas is a former competitive cyclist who now swims, bikes and plays hockey for fun in Ottawa. You can keep up with her here or on Twitter.

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. Her recent enthusiasm for cycling is due to Vicki’s influence.


Lia Thomas and Trans Athletes

Lia Thomas’ recent win at the NCAA swim meet has sparked another round of debate about the rights of transgender athletes to participate in sports.

Here is what Sarah Sardinia wrote on Twitter: To all those pushing this false narrative that Trans People have an advantage in sports, and are using Lia Thomas as “proof”, let me lay down some stats here …

1650 yard distance
Lia pre-transition: 14:54.765
Lia post-transition: 15:59.71 (lost 65 seconds)
Male record: 14:12.08 (Kieran Smith)
Female record: 15:03:31 (Katie Ledecky)
She was 40 seconds behind the male record, now she is 56 behind the female

500 yard distance
Lia’s best pre-transition, 4:18:72
Lia’s current, 4:34:06
Female record (Katie Ledecky), 4:24:06
Male record (Kieran Smith), 4:06:32

200 yard distance
Prior to transition 1:39.31
Male record, 1:29.15
After transition 1:41.93
Female record of 1:39.10

See a pattern here?
Not advantage, consistency

There’s a reason that with all the Trans Women competing in sports for years, she is one of the only top ranking ones, because she’s always been one of the top ranking. You can read more here about the data.

To put it another way:

And those images really need to be juxtaposed with the next one, which includes a photo of Olympic champion Katie Ledecky. Katie is 6 feet tall, which makes her one inch shorter than Lia, and two inches shorter than Missy Franklin, who set that NCAA 200 yard record in 2015. There is a lot of talk about how height, and size, and arm span give men natural advantages over women. Swimmers like Michael Phelps have natural advantages, including height, huge feet and flexibility, arm reach, long torsos and relatively short legs. That’s true both among men and women.

Maybe we should learn a a bit more about what this very private athlete has to say for herself. Her experience is not atypical of the gender testing that has gone on for many decades.

The reality is that the vast majority of youth athletes of any gender don’t compete at the elite level. However, even as amateur athletes they face discrimination, so few participate, especially trans girls. A recent Reuters article noted that “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2019 that just 1.8% of high school students in the country are transgender, and the Human Rights Campaign has said that, according to surveys, only about 12% play on girls’ sports teams.”.

Some do do compete as boys or men without too much attention, such as Schuyler Bailar, the first openly trans swimmer in the NCAA men’s first division, and Chris Mosier, the first openly trans athlete to qualify for Team USA and who competed in the Olympic Trials in January 2020. Others, such as Mack Beggs, the Texas high school wrestler forced to compete against girls even after starting to take testosterone, are forced into the same unwelcome spotlight as Lia Thomas. By focusing so much on biology and physiology, the impact is the dehumanization of those kids.

Lots more research is needed on the impact of hormones on performance, and there are legitimate concerns about putting competitors of significantly different sizes/abilities in the same categories when there is a risk of injury. The Christian Science Monitor has done a decent job of trying to summarize the latest research and how it is interpreted. But the bottom line for me and most of the people I know can be summarized like this:

Anyone saying trans girls have an unfair advantage have never seen me perform a sport. Cartoon by Sophie Labelle (

Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa.


Paralympics and other athletes with disabilities, and representation

The past few weeks had me thinking about athletes with disabilities. They have been in the news a lot lately. My thoughts are rather jumbled because this is a group of athletes I rarely think about. It’s a shame; there are some great athletes doing amazing things, and as a good feminist I should be considering all kinds of diversity, not just the people who identify as women. In approximate chronological order:

Terry Fox – this Canadian icon was in the spotlight in late January when protesters in Ottawa decorated/desecrated (depending on your perspective) the statue of him right across from Parliament Hill. Fox famously ran the equivalent of a marathon a day all the way from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay in in 1980, to raise money for cancer research. That was 143 marathons, before the cancer that cost him a leg returned and killed him a few months later, at the age of 22.

Steve Fonyo, another young man who lost a leg to cancer and finished Terry Fox’s cross-country run to raise funds for cancer research, died a couple of weeks ago. He struggled with addiction and had several criminal convictions, which have tainted his legacy. He reminds me that a person is much more than their disability, or how they respond to it.

Both those young men achieved something I never dreamed of doing. Both were inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. But from the 1985, when Fonyo completed his run, until 2004, I don’t recall hearing of a single athlete with a disability. 2004 was the year Chantal Peticlerc had an astounding Paralympic Games in Barcelona, winning five gold medals plus an exhibition event. It was her fourth Paralympics, and she had won multiple medals at all of them.

The next big news story is the Paralympics going on in Beijing right now. Remember that? I am sad to say I don’t know the names of the flag bearers, or any of the other athletes. I confess I haven’t been tracking the results anywhere nearly as closely as I did for the earlier winter games. Paralympic sports are complicated, with various classifications depending on the level of disability. There are no pro teams, or even big endorsement deals, so these athletes are virtually unknown to most of us.

Two Paralympics stories I have been following relate to representation. The first is the fate of the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic teams, which were banned from participating even as neutral athletes with no identifying flags or colours, following the invasion of Ukraine, Regardless of the reasons, I can’t underestimate the crushing disappointment this must have been to athletes who rarely get an opportunity to be on the world stage. They cynic in me notes that the invasion didn’t happen until just after the Beijing Winter Olympics, so those athletes did not face the same sanctions.

The other story of representation is the number of female Paralympics. Overall, they make up just under 25% of all athletes at the games. In comparison, 45% of athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics were women. This gender gap is even more pronounced among coaches, technicians and guides.

Among the Canadian women, at least, there is determination to make change by inspiring girls with their podium finishes, and then becoming coaches themselves after they retire from competition. Big wins alone won’t make the difference, as Mollie Jepsen, gold medallist in the standing downhill ski event said this week “The more representation in sport, the better. The more people that younger athletes can look up and see like, ‘Whoa, that’s a girl, and she’s out there doing that’ — I think just no matter what, the more females we have in sport, the better”.

Mollie Jepsen, in a red and white outfit, skis down a snow covered hill.

Concluding thoughts: this is an area where I really see my biases. I want to be more attentive to the achievement of these athletes, but I find it hard to connect outside my natural tribe of women athletes. Is it okay not to love them? I feel guilty, even though I refuse to feel guilty about many other biases in the sporting world (I also don’t love professional tennis, golf, baseball or football, but still like the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Can I make more of an effort to learn more about these sports? I could probably do that. Now is a good time to try, while there are clips of great performances readily available on-line, along with profiles of many athletes. Hopefully others will do the same. To take Mollie’s words a step further, the more people we have saying “whoa, she’s out there doing that” and the more fans we have following the sport, the better.


Christine Sinclair and Women in Sport

Last week, FIFA, the international soccer federation, recognized Christine Sinclair as the greatest goal scorer ever. Period. Male or Female.

Astonishingly, although she has been shortlisted as FIFA player of the year seven times, she has never won that recognition, despite playing in five World Cups and four Olympics (bringing home two bronze medals and a gold). This year, she didn’t even make the final cut.

It was almost two years after she broke the record. She scored her 185th goal in international play back in January 2020. She now has 308, along with 53 assists. She scored her first goal in her second game as a member of the Canadian national team, when she was just sixteen.

Almost every photo of Christine Sinclair shows her with that huge smile of joy. This photo is by Daniela Porcelli/Canada Soccer

Over twenty years later, she is still going strong, playing with both her Portland professional team and the Canadian team. And she is not done. In addition to plans to play at the next Women’s World Cup in 2023, and committing to another two years with Portland, she is pushing for a professional women’s soccer league in Canada. Canada is the only FIFA top 10 ranked country without a professional women’s soccer league.

A pro league wouldn’t solve all the disparities between the men’s and women’s games. But as Sinclair explained just after that gold medal win “We’re hoping that this platform will give us the opportunity to start that change and plead to Canadians that have the ability to make the difference to invest in women. The young little kids, they deserve to be able to go watch their heroes on a week-to-week basis and not [just] every four years.”

Starting a league, or even a team, takes a lot of resources. I get that. But I also note that soccer is the most popular team sport in Canada, with over 750,000 participants in organized programs. It ranks among the most popular sports for girls, and as long ago as 2012, more than 360,000 females played the game (41% of all players).

Approximately 4.4 million Canadians tuned in to watch that gold medal game in Tokyo, making it the most watched event of the Games. It seems to me that there is an audience. I, for one, would love to follow teams regularly, instead of a World Cup of Olympics tournament every few years.

Diane Harper lives in Ottawa. She is an enthusiastic watcher of World Cup and Olympic soccer, and looks forward to catching a live game when the Men’s World Cup comes to Canada in 2026. She still regrets missing the Women’s World Cup sole Ottawa game in 2015.


Sport or Bows? Also, sparkles are the Australia of gender

You might have seen this making the rounds, Gender, according to the Cis, based on their cakes.

I’m sharing it partly because it’s a hot day and the news about the pandemic spread in the United States keeps making me cry.

Why is the richest country in the world throwing up its hands in the face of the pandemic, running out of hospital beds, and PPE?

However, this made me laugh.

What’s striking from the point of this blog is that sport is a gender! And girls are BOWS not baseball, BOWS not basketball, etc.

To all the young women out there playing basketball and baseball, I’m wishing you strength and joy in your pursuits.

And there are so many reasons not to ever have a gender reveal party and I love that the woman credited with founding the trend, Jenna Karvunidis, even says, please don’t.

“Plot twist! The baby from the original gender reveal party is a girl who wears suits,” Karvunidis says. “She says ‘she’ and ‘her’ and all of that, but you know she really goes outside gender norms.”

brown framed chalkboard easel with baby coming in July he or she text
He or She Party, photo by Unsplash
athletes · fitness

OMG did you see Simone Biles’ latest?

Is there not just something incredible about watching elite women athletes blow everyone’s mind with their incredible athleticism? In case you missed it, the latest almost unbelievable achievement in sport goes to US gymnast Simone Biles, who completed (though not to her own satisfaction) a move that is reported to have revolutionized gymnastics. The move is called “the triple double: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips.”

According to Slate, it is “the single most spectacular skill that any female gymnast has ever attempted, on any apparatus, in the history of the sport. It’s got an “astronomical difficulty rating” and looks almost impossible (but for the fact that she is doing it!):

From the same competition, the US Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Biles completed a stunning and unprecedented dismount after a gripping routine on the balance beam. According to the article in Slate, Biles “destroyed a new balance beam dismount, the most difficult and daring in the history of the sport: a double-double, or a double somersault with a full twist in each flip. This is a skill that is usually reserved for the floor exercise—an apparatus that is 40 feet wide and outfitted with 11 centimeters of springs. Biles did it off the end of a lightly padded plank 4 inches wide and 4 feet off the ground, and she made it look easy.” And landed it perfectly:

This is really just an “in case you missed it post.” Simone Biles is not to be missed. Keep in mind too that she purportedly had an off-weekend, by her own lights it was not her best. She expressed disappointment over her floor routine because she didn’t complete the triple double to her own high standards. And it was all still enough to secure her first place.


She’s making me fall in love with gymnastics all over again. I really don’t even have a question to end on today, other than the rhetorical: “doesn’t watching Simone Biles do gymnastics make you want to watch more of Simone Biles doing gymnastics?”

Weekends with Womack

Moving through shock, outrage, and sadness

Sometimes terrible things happen, and we have no idea how to comprehend them, much less respond to them, much much less combat them.

Something terrible happened in Paris Friday night—as of this blog writing, at least 125 (reports vary right now) people were killed in armed attacks while at a concert, a sports stadium, a restaurant and other popular spots in the city. The story is still unfolding, and will likely take some time to become clear.

I don’t know what to say here on this blog about the awful massacre. I don’t know what to say here on this blog about the violent world we live in. One thing I do know—when terrible things happen, it’s good to keep movement an important part of our lives. It helps center and calm us, and it is often done in the company of friends or family.

So let’s do some movement today.

To keep us company, here are some pictures of some female athletes, engrossed in the joy and concentration of sports or activity.

Alize Cornet

Alize’ Cornet—professional tennis player, beat Serena Williams 3 times in 2014, including at Wimbledon.


Iranian soccer player (not identified), found on the Muslim women in sports Facebook page.

Marcia Ella-Duncan, member of Yuin Nation of New South WalesMarcia Ella-Duncan, championship netballer and member of Yuin nation in New South Wales, Australia.

Screen Shot 2015-11-14 at 9.14.33 PMMarjorie Turner-Bailey, Canadian track and field champion and Olympian in the 1976 games.

take aimYoung girl at a French camp, learning archery.

I’ll stop here, and will be back next week.


My Glove (Guest Post)

by Shelley Tremain

Right-handed leather softball glove for a left-handed thrower. Tan leather, well-worn. The fingers are joined with criss-crossing strips of leather and the area between the fingers and the thumb is closed with a two-tone woven leather piece.
Right-handed leather softball glove for a left-handed thrower. Tan leather, well-worn. The fingers are joined with criss-crossing strips of leather and the area between the fingers and the thumb is closed with a two-tone woven leather piece.

I haven’t really run since I became disabled at twenty-five. Not that I have missed it. But when I was a teenager, I was a star softball player.

I started playing league softball when I was nine. By the time I was twelve, I was a better batter than the seventeen- and eighteen-year-olds in the league. But it was my role at first base that really stood out.

I’m left-handed, so I caught with my right hand and had a terrific stretch off the bag. I never missed a throw, not even one way over my head.

I had one glove for all the years that I played. I loved that glove. That glove was my summer. Softball was my summer.

I can still remember how, when I first got my glove, I greased it and tied a ball in it for a couple of days to “work it in.” I remember the colour of my glove, how it looked on my hand, the subdued shine of the leather. I remember how it felt, especially how it felt when the ball snapped in it.

We had the strongest infield. Me and Cathy and Sue. We won the league championship a few years in a row. We were first-draft picks for our team. All three of us were on the all-star team for our league. I won best batter in the city-wide tournament one year.

Then Bill, our coach, started standing close to me and putting his arm around me, saying things to me. I didn’t want to play first base for him anymore. I asked to be traded to another team and then asked my new coach to put me in the outfield. I stopped playing after a couple more years.

I don’t know what became of my glove.

Shelley Tremain is a disabled feminist philosopher of disability and publishes on a variety of topics, including disability and philosophy, ableism in feminist philosophy, disability and bioethics, and Foucault. Shelley is the editor of Foucault and the Government of Disability (University of Michigan Press, 2005, 2015) and is completing a monograph entitled Foucault and (A) Feminist Philosophy of Disability (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming). She derives pleasure from writing, long walks, and doodling and blogs regularly at the Discrimination and Disadvantage blog: