Riley Gaines among 16 female athletes suing sports body over pro-trans policy

Riley Gaines sitting in a legislative table.

Riley Gaines is among 16 sportswomen suing an athletics regulator the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) over its inclusion of transgender people.

Gaines, a former University of Kentucky swimmer, has become a prominent opponent of trans inclusion in women’s sport since she competed against trans US college swimmer Lia Thomas in 2022.

A lawsuit filed on Thursday (14 March) targets the NCAA for what claimants describe as a discriminatory policy that allows trans women to compete in sporting events.

Funded by the Independent Council on Women’s Sports (ICONS), an organisation built on the foundations of fighting what it calls “sex-based discrimination” by removing trans athletes from women’s competitions, the lawsuit argues the NCAA’s policy violates Title IX, a federal statute that guarantees equal opportunity for men and women in college education and sports.

“Promoting policies that deprive women of equal opportunities and safe spaces in collegiate sport appears to facilitate the NCAA’s goal of retaining control of the monetisation of college sport,” the lawsuit claims.

“Through [its] transgender eligibility policies, the NCAA has aligned with the most radical elements of the so-called diversity, equity and inclusion agenda on college campuses.”

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The NCAA oversees several college-level sporting events, including ice hockey, basketball, swimming and wrestling.

NCAA SWIMMING: MAR 18 Women's Swimming and Diving Championships
The two swimmers at the heart of the court case: Riley Gaines (R) and Lia Thomas (L). (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Gaines said she was fighting “for every young girl who dreams of competing in sports”, adding: “I’m thankful for ICONS’ commitment to our cause, especially their financial commitment allowing us to take this to court.”

Gaines is suing alongside fellow swimmers Réka György, Kate Pearson, Lily Mullens, Susanna Price, Carter Satterfield, Julianna Morrow, Katie Blankinship and Kylee Alons, volleyball player Kaitlynn Wheeler, cross-country runner Ainsley Erzen, tennis player Ellie Eades, as well as four other athletes, two of whom are also swimmers and one a track athlete, who did not wish to be named.

The NCAA has been targeted by various right-wing groups for its pro-trans stance and safeguarding policies, with some claiming that transgender women have an inherent advantage in sports. However, some experts argue that anti-trans policies in sports are “not based on concrete evidence”.

In 2022, endocrinologist Dr Ada Cheung told The Sydney Morning Herald that policies on trans inclusion should not be based on people’s “opinions“, reiterating that there is not enough evidence to suggest an advantage.

“We actually don’t know if there’s a biological advantage for transgender women over cisgender women because the science is not clear,” she said.

Gaines continues to advocate for total trans exclusion from women’s sports, even in chess.

“Men shouldn’t be in women’s category in chess, pool, or any sport,” she said. “Why even have a women’s category if men can play wherever they want?”

In a statement given to Associated Press, the NCAA said: “College sports are the premier stage for women’s sports in America, and, while the NCAA does not comment on pending litigation, the asssociation and its members will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women’s sports and ensure fair competition in all NCAA championships.”

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