The Non-Binary Athletic Category Hurts Female Athletes – The American Spectator
“Woman competes in women’s sports” should be a dog-bites-man story. Instead, it’s become a game of who’s burying what lede.
American runner Nikki Hiltz and Canada’s mononymic soccer player Quinn should have been feted for winning the USA Track & Field Outdoor National Championship in the 1500 meters a few weeks before setting an American record in the mile (Hiltz) and playing all but 13 minutes of Canada’s World Cup run while closing on 100 senior national team appearances (Quinn). Instead, these athletes’ names and achievements were erased (in the parlance of our times) from the headlines that instead framed the stories around the athletes’ non-binary gender identities.
Both Hiltz and Quinn are females, the only aspect of sex or gender that has any relevance on athletic performance or categorization.
The media’s urge to conflate each athlete’s non-binary identity with her athletic accomplishments is another way in which non-binary recognition in sports has a disparate impact on female athletes. After all, men’s sports aren’t hurting for attention qua men’s sports. Nor are men complaining about pay gaps that still exist within some sporting bodies.
The New York Road Runners were one of the first sporting organizations to offer equal prize money to men and women. NYRR marked the end of “shamateurism” by awarding both Grete Waitz and Orlando Pizzolato $25,000 and a Mercedes for winning the women’s and men’s division, respectively, in the 1984 New York Marathon.
In 2021, NYRR added a non-binary category to all races. The organization followed that up in 2022 by extending equal prize money to the non-binary category. The top 5–8 male, female, and non-binary finishers in NYRR’s local races now win equal amounts, as do the top NYRR members in the international events like the TCS New York City Marathon. The professional level prizes at the international events are still limited to men’s and women’s divisions, e.g., $100,000 to the champions at the marathon.
Proponents of non-binary prize money say that adding these awards increases the prize purse at no detriment to women.
To the literal, sophistic extent that neither the men’s nor women’s prize purse was reduced to allocate funds for the non-binary division, this is true. However, that argument relies on the premise that non-binary individuals are physically distinct from men and women, in some way comparable to how men and women are physically distinct, as is evident from athletic performance (among other obvious markers). (READ MORE: Another Attack on Women’s Sports)
One back-of-the-napkin way to test this is to examine the distribution of prize money by sex.
Because road-running results were categorized by male or female until about 10 minutes ago, we can use results from websites or college sports profiles to see how NYRR’s non-binary prize-money winners clicked the M/F box in other races. Where that method came up empty, we can infer sex based on name.
The impact on women is blatantly perverse when women have to compete against men for prize money.
In 16 NYRR races in 2022–23, 18 men and four women finished in the prize-money places in the non-binary divisions. The prize money for these races ranged from $500 to $5,000 for first place and went 5–8 places deep, for a total purse of $36,600 per gender.
The four female runners combined for $1,000 of the non-binary prize money, while the male runners took home $35,600. This averages out to about $2,000 per man and $250 per woman.
Let’s return to the proponents’ claim. The female and male categories each have $36,600 on offer. With the non-binary category, the total prize purse becomes $109,800, a 50 percent increase in the total payout without a single dollar coming out of the men’s or women’s offering. NYRR simply added an identical pie alongside the existing two.
Now let’s return to checking our premises.
In the pre-non-binary era, women won half of the prize purse. Over these 16 races, women — females — won the $36,600 in the women’s division plus $1,000 from the non-binary division. Men also held onto their $36,600 men’s division winnings but added $35,600 via their non-binary brethren. (READ MORE: Will Biden Boycott the Olympics?)
Yes, the overall prize purse increased by 50 percent, but women’s share of the purse decreased from 50 percent to 34 percent, while men increased their share from 50 percent to 66 percent.
The coverage of Hiltz’s and Quinn’s accomplishments benefitted the non-binary community, such as it is, in the attention economy. Obscuring the fact that these are women achieving milestones in women’s sports is to the detriment of women at all levels of sports, from young girls seeking role models to fellow professionals vying to raise the profile and earnings of women’s sports.
The impact on women is blatantly perverse when women have to compete against men for prize money within and against the athletically irrelevant category of non-binary. Men in the non-binary category benefitted over 35 times compared to women in the non-binary category. In the overall payout for NYRR’s races, after decades of 50/50, it’s now 2:1.
Non-binary prize money evades the fact that the non-binary category includes males and females. Even if we accept that this is a neutral effort at gender inclusivity, the unavoidable outcome is an adverse effect on women competitors both within the category and in the event as a whole.
Fifty-six years after Kathrine Switzer ran the Boston Marathon and 40 years after New York Road Runners instituted equal pay for male and female athletes: “Woman competed in women’s sports? And equal pay for male and female athletes? Now those are stories!”
George M.J. Perry is a sports performance coach, sports businessman, and writer. Before going into the sports industry, he was a submarine warfare officer in the United States Navy and briefly attended law school.