- Toni Vonk
Coach Blade and The ICFS: Doing the Heavy Lifting to Bring Fairness to Women's Sport
by Toni Vonk
For its inaugural action, a team of ICFS “demonstrators-in-mourning” successfully deliver their message at the Canadian Powerlifting Union National Championships. By Toni Vonk
The energy with which esteemed Canadian sports performance coach, Dr. Linda Blade, fights for fair play is becoming legendary. Her ability to motivate transcends athletics and is manifesting in the myriad organizations forming around the world in defense of women’s and girls’ sex-based rights. Coach Blade can team build as effectively as she brings the best out of an individual. Coach Blade began speaking publicly about the transgression of women’s sports by men claiming to have a female identity four years ago. In 2021, she wrote the book, Unsporting: How Trans Activism and Science Denial are Destroying Sport, with Barbara Kay. As spokesperson for Canadian Women’s Sex-Based Rights (caWsbar) and as the leader of the Canadian chapter of Women's Declaration International, Coach Blade champions the protection and advancement of women and girls on the basis of sex rather than "gender" or "gender identity." And in January of this year, Coach Blade and her co-founders from nine different countries launched the International Consortium on Female Sport (ICFS) – now the preeminent international lobby group advocating for the preservation of the female sport category worldwide. Built upon the foundational principle that fairness and safety for women in sport is only ensured by having a category dedicated for those born female, the ICFS insists that women be consulted in the development of sports rules and policies that have a direct impact on them. “To be denied this right,” says Coach Blade, “is discrimination on the basis of sex.” It was in her capacity as a co-founder of the ICFS that Coach Blade recently led a successful, in-person action at the Canadian Powerlifting Union (CPU) National Championships at the Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel on February 16. Responding to a private request by one of the female powerlifters who was deeply troubled by the prospect of having to compete with a male athlete, nineteen determined ICFS members and supporters participated in the inaugural ICFS demonstration, attending the powerlifting championships live, en masse. Their message? That it’s not fair or safe for men to compete against women in any women’s sport category.
The ICFS action wear was dramatic. All demonstrators wore black to signal mourning for women's sport, and pull-on tunics with “XY ≠ XX” emblazoned on the front, the ICFS logo on the back. Their contingent included women who had flown in from Calgary, women who had ferried in from Victoria, two former Olympians, and the editor of Gender Dissent, felicia rembrandt.
“We estimate there were about 400 spectators at the event,” reported rembrandt. “We took up a full row and more at the back. We were certainly visible,” she said.
“We were there to support the women athletes and to object to their having to compete against a man,” says Coach Blade. “And by ‘man,’ we mean a person who has experienced male puberty and the biological and competitive advantages that come with it.”
Source: https://twitter.com/ICFSport/status/1626988362937798656?s=20 On the roster at this year's nationals was trans-identified, eight-time Canadian powerlifting competition winner and podium thief, Anne Andres “(F)”. Self-describing as a “trannie-freak,” Andres, a biological male, would again be competing against women and was likely to again take a woman’s place on the winner’s podium. Andres had managed to raise the bar in the conflict of athlete’s rights when he trash-talked a female competitor on social media last November: “...she’s got little T-rex arms and she’s like 400 pounds of chest muscle, apparently.”
Source: https://twitter.com/icons_women/status/1610526820516114433?s=20 In this pompous rant against women’s bench powerlifters, for which he is properly lampooned in this expository video, Andres reveals he has a 45-pound son (average weight of a 7-year old boy) who he suggests can outlift women. Claiming to be female so he can compete against women, but then bragging about his young son’s natural strength in a way that belittles his competitors didn't prove to be such a great PR move by Andres. In a separate, painfully insincere pre-competition display of victimhood on Instagram, Andres compared push-back he is receiving to his competing against women, to being racially targeted and called the “N word.” This powerlifter who cries when he is correctly sexed, suggests he entertains thoughts of abandoning his son when he says, “obviously, I don’t really care if I’m around, or whatever.” Andres publicly posted this threat of self-removal because a woman he knows wrote an essay in which she said that trans-identified males should not be in the same dressing room as young girls. Meanwhile, he justifies the destruction of the women’s sports category and male intrusion of their private spaces by frequently stating he “just wants to lift big circles.” He says in the video that he has learned that there may be a protest at the competition and unless the organizers do something about it, he will pull out of the competition. They didn’t. And nor did he.
Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CoS0lc8SxUm/ The CPU’s Transgender Inclusion Policy states that “all individuals deserve respectful and inclusive environments for participation that value the individual’s gender identity and gender expression.” It says that all participants “should have access to programming and facilities in which they feel comfortable and safe.” It pledges to “provide registration forms and other documents that allow the individual to indicate their gender identity and expression, rather than their sex or gender.” And the CPU promises that when it can, it will “permit individuals to use the facilities of their gender identity.” “All of this policy making with the goal of inclusivity,” says Coach Blade, “and yet they managed to completely miss the mark when it comes to considering and including the rights, safety and dignity of women and girl athletes.” The CPU publicizes its mission is to “sanction the highest quality competitions and to develop, promote and educate drug-free powerlifting in Canada.” It participates in the Canadian Anti-Doping Program (CADP) which is designed to prevent, deter and detect performance-enhancing doping “and serves to protect the integrity of sport and the rights of clean athletes.” At the same time, the CPU’s Transgender Policy fails to draw a line at doping that may enhance an athlete's “gender performance.” It maintains that trans athletes should be able to participate as the gender with which they identify, regardless of whether or not they have undergone hormone therapy. “Exceptions could be made if a sport organization is able to provide evidence that demonstrates hormone therapy is a reasonable and bona fide requirement (i.e., a necessary response to a legitimate need) to “create a fair playing field at the high-performance level.” In the case of transgender-identified male athletes who compete against women, many sports organizations, such as World Athletics, require that they reduce their testosterone levels in order to create a level-playing field. Testosterone suppression can be accomplished with estrogen hormone therapy. However, there remains debate as to what level of testosterone is acceptable and critics argue that testosterone suppression does not fully remove the competitive advantages of a person who has gone through male puberty prior to transitioning. An opinion piece by Coach Blade describing the true absurdity of male inclusion in women’s powerlifting was published this week by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. In her commentary, Blade points out that male advantage in powerlifting is far higher than in most other sports, with men exceeding the weight lifted by women to the tune of 54.5% in the squats, 65.3% in bench press, and 54.9% in the deadlift. The only redeeming feature is that powerlifting is not a contact sport where the female athletes would surely be exposed to a heightened risk of serious injury by including a male competitor. Still, the unfairness of the inclusion of a male into the female class via self-identification in this sport is exorbitant.
Source: https://twitter.com/icons_women/status/1626392039079436289/photo/1 The strategic target of the ICFS demonstration, however, was not Andres, Coach Blade explains – it was the President of the CPU, Shane Martin. “We were going there to deliver our message in a non-aggressive manner, to let him, and sports-governing bodies around the world, know that we are watching,” she says. It was the mere presence of Team ICFS in the back rows of the venue, however, that brought CPU President, Shane Martin, directly to them early on in the competition with a request that they leave. In a video posted to social media by ICONS Women, a panicked-looking Martin implies that they are making the space “unsafe.” One demonstrator asks how they can be making the space unsafe when they are doing exactly what everyone else is doing – waving signs and cheering on the women athletes? Upon failing to offer an intelligible reason as to why they should leave, Martin hurries off to summon the police. Coach Blade can be heard saying that she also has an RCMP officer on call.
Source: https://twitter.com/icons_women/status/1626388003605348352?s=20 A hotel manager arrives some minutes later to politely inform Team ICFS that if they are refusing to leave on their own accord, he will need to escalate the problem. The vocal demonstrator again asks why they should have to leave, given that each of them had paid the admission fee and that they were just encouraging female competitors like everyone else in the venue. After also failing to provide a meaningful response, the manager leaves to get the RCMP, who he advises have already been called and are waiting outside the conference room.
Source: https://twitter.com/icons_women/status/1626395222602285056?s=20 “Then a man came and went behind a curtain to confer with two of the demonstrators,” observed an ICFS demonstrator, “but the police never came in. We were asked to put away the scary purple, white, and green suffragette symbols some of us had brought or worn to the event, but then we were left to continue to encourage and cheer like before,” she said. It appears that there was, in fact, no valid reason for police to remove a group of enthusiastic women in action wear from cheering at a sports event. With the simple action of showing up en masse and behaving in accordance with the expectations of such an event (cheering for competitors), Team ICFS had, in very short order, achieved its objective of letting the CPU president know that he has a serious problem with his transgender inclusion policy. Coach Blade explains that the solution to the conflict is simple: “Sports federations need to develop disciplines, events, scoring systems and mechanisms that include everyone in sport, while also dedicating a category to females.” The inaugural ICFS live action was well-covered and shared widely on social media, and, in an unusual move, in a somewhat-balanced, albeit incorrect, article by the CBC. CBC published Anne Andre’s erroneous account that the demonstrators had been removed by police from the event. But evidence exists that they did not.
Notwithstanding the permission granted to Team ICFS to remain at the competition, as long as they “promised not to create a disturbance,” rembrandt met with direct resistance from other spectators when she tried to take photographs of the competitors lifting. “When I walked down the side aisle to get close to take better pictures, I was blocked by two women who honestly wouldn’t let me get by,” said rembrandt. On her second try, she was able to take some photos of the female competitors, but when Andres came on, “a bunch of people, men and women, suddenly got up and stood in front of me and began blocking me.” She tried to get closer to the stage, but was then blocked by an event photographer. “He kept looking over his shoulder to see where I was and then would move in front of me,” she said.
One of the ICFS demonstrators captured these back-handed messages directed to them from a female spectator who evidently prefers cheating men to fair play for women:
Photo credits: Christine Lilge
In addition to telling the CPU president loudly and clearly that he has to fix his transgender inclusion policy, the ICFS demonstration may also have positively contributed to the outcome of the competition. Powerlifting, like any sport, is also a mental game. Athletes feed off the energy of the crowd. The ICFS contingent had congregated to cheer and encourage the female competitors, hoping to energize them to be strong enough to beat Andres. In an exciting outcome, Andres was shut out from the first- and second-place prizes, which went to Brittany Schlater (F) and Mackenzie Lee (F). As it turns out, one of these victorious women is the one with the “T-rex arms” that Andres so rudely demeaned on Instagram. Apparently, trash-talking an opponent can turn out poorly, especially for an athlete with questionable athletic ability whose only hope of achieving success is to enter the wrong category. Several videos online show lively and loud spectators throughout the competition. But in this video of Andres doing a squat, which has been removed from YouTube by the CPU, the audience is all but silent.
Source: https://twitter.com/icons_women/status/1626390065663598592?s=20 Encouraging the female athletes but remaining silent when trans identifying males compete is part of the ICFS action plan. Given Andres’ third-place finish, when he was expected to place higher, it may be interpreted that he was throwing it, so as to skew the results and not to be called a cheater again. Or, it could be interpreted that Team ICFS’ presence had more impact in that competition venue than just raising awareness. Whatever the cause, that fact remains that Anne Andres, biological male, has once again thrown a female competitor off the winner’s podium. That competitor’s name is Aileen Bishop (F). “I think this was a really successful first protest for the ICFS,” said rembrandt, “what with being questioned by management, threatened with RCMP, and myself being repeatedly blocked as I tried to take pictures, it was clear that everyone in the house knew who we were and why we were there. We were not invisible.” “It’s certain that sport-policy leaders around the world have now seen this ICFS action,” says Coach Blade. “They now know that there is organized and ardent opposition to their policies that allow males to compete in female sports. They know that we are proposing a realistic solution to the problem they have caused. And they should know that we'll keep showing up to make our point while encouraging and cheering our accomplished and dedicated female athletes.”
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