February 13th, 2023
Re: Fairness in Female Surfing
Dear International Surfing Association Members Worldwide:
The International Consortium on Female Sport (ICFS) calls on the International Surfing Association (ISA) and its members to fairness for female surfers in your tours and events.
The ISA Transgender Policy, which allows male transgender athletes to compete in women’s events if they suppress their testosterone, undermines fairness for female surfers.
All scientific evidence shows that testosterone suppression in adults cannot reverse the significant male differences in morphology and sport performance. The effects of both male genetics and male body responsiveness to androgens are permanent.
ICFS calls on national federations governing surfing to reject ISA’s Transgender policy, and to demand that the ISA reconsiders and consults with ICFS to ensure scientific accuracy and to include the voice of women in this matter.
Scientific research on sex-based performance in surfing has confirmed there are differences between male and female surfers, most especially in regards to strength, and explosive power. Whether surfers are the best in the world, youths in a junior talent pathway, or masters of all ages, male performance advantage is clear. It is not possible to remove this performance advantage.
No male advantage should be permitted in the female category. Adopting testosterone suppression to allow male bodies to compete in the women’s category is a flawed policy that harms female athletes and is in no way supported by science.
By adopting policies that allow the inclusion of trans identifying males in the female category, you have made the decision that their inclusion is more important than fairness for your female surfers. It is not possible to 'balance fairness with inclusion' by including males in the female category, as it results in females being excluded from the category made for them. Given the history of abysmal treatment towards women in surfing, this is seriously concerning and a step backwards for women in the sport. Women are still very much a minority in the water, and their place in surfing should not be treated as though it can be freely abused after a few decades of slow gains in equality.
In the history of female surfing, women have had to sit out competition to protest their treatment in the sport before. It is sad and tragic that at least one prominent female surfer feels the need to protest again, this time against these unfair rules that prioritise males. How can the ISA let this happen a second time?
Testosterone suppression doesn’t work. As a mandate, it is impossible to enforce outside the special conditions of National and World Championship events. Ninety-nine percent of sport is not World class; it’s run by volunteers, with no anti-doping processes and is reliant on goodwill and voluntary compliance. Also, a transgender person cannot know their testosterone levels, nor whether missing medication has made a difference. So, there is no way anyone within the system can guarantee compliance.
Member federations must reject ISA’s policy and adopt strict guidelines that protect the integrity of the women’s category and fairness for the female athlete. Eligibility for the women’s category must be restricted to those who are biologically female.
On behalf of women from around the world who have signed onto the ICFS and the many who are not, yet, aware that their participation in surfing is in jeopardy, we urge you to take this moment to reconsider and save women’s surfing for future generations of female participants.
Yours in Sport,
Founding Members, ICFS