Lia Thomas’ Olympic dreams ended this week after an international sports court rejected the male swimmer’s plea to compete in women’s events.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) ruling upholds World Aquatics rules banning post-pubescent boys from competing in women’s sports.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful. CAS has spared me — a former swimmer — and every other woman with a television from watching a 6’1’’ man humiliate some of the best female athletes in the world.

It occurs to me, however, that my gratitude is one born of desperation.

Five years ago, I would have expected an athlete like Thomas to be laughed out of the NCAA, if not criminally prosecuted for indecent exposure. Now, I’m just relieved he was denied entrance to the highest level of competition in the world.

If I pretend for a second, however, that I’m not a desperate woman — a sane person grateful for a moment outside the asylum — my gratitude for this week’s “victory” fades.

In fact, forced to contemplate how far women’s rights have fallen, I don’t feel grateful at all.

Why do the biological differences between men and women only matter at the highest echelon of athletic competition? Is it because of the audience? The money? Is it because women’s rights mean more when people “really care”?

Until very recently, most Americans agreed all people deserve equal opportunities to compete and succeed in sports. This conviction contributed to the creation of Title IX in 1972 and the separation of men’s and women’s professional sports.

But CAS’ decision, which attempts to uphold women’s equality, only highlights how unequal women’s sports have become.

Female Olympians compete in fair competitions, but middle school track and field athletes don’t — they get punished for refusing to compete against a male opponent.

Young, female swimmers don’t. When a 50-year-old man wants to race them, their parents help them change behind “makeshift” towel tents.

High school basketball teams don’t. They forfeit games against male competitors, sometimes after sustaining too many injuries to finish competing.

High school volleyball players don’t, even after a strike from a male opponent leaves a 17-year-old girl partially paralyzed.

High school track and field competitors don’t.  They might finish within a half mile of their male counterparts, if they’re lucky.

High school field hockey athletes don’t. They just lose teeth.

It doesn’t always get better in college.

Thomas famously defeated several world-class swimmers, including Olympic silver-medalist Emma Weyant, when he competed in NCAA women’s swimming following three years on Penn State’s men’s team.

When, by some miracle, fellow swimmer Riley Gaines tied with Thomas in a critical race, officials gave him the trophy. “For photo purposes”, obviously.

A male swimmer at Ramapo College recently followed in Thomas’ footsteps — joining the women’s team after three years competing with the men.

Even professional athletes don’t receive the same protection CAS gives female Olympians.

At least two MMA fighters have lost to male opponents — one after being choked out by a former special forces soldier and the other after receiving a concussion and a broken eye-socket.

In women’s golf, a man won the NXXT “Women’s Classic” trophy.

CAS made the right decision to ban Thomas from Olympic women’s swimming. But women’s rights — to fair competition, to dignity, to safety — apply to all women, regardless of athletic prowess.

Officials and athletic organizations should follow CAS’ lead and separate sports by sex once again.

Anything else amounts to blatant elitism and grievous inequality that cannot be tolerated, particularly in a nation founded on the belief that “all men are created equal.”

Additional Articles and Resources

Male Swimmer Lia Thomas Banned From Swimming at Olympics — Rightfully So

Lia Thomas Sets Eyes on Olympics, Challenges World Aquatics’ Policy on Transgender Athletes

Shoving Girls Off the Podium: More Male Athletes Participating in Girls Sports

International Swimming Federation (Mostly) Protects Women’s Aquatic Sports From Male Athletes

Middle School Girls Who Protested ‘Trans’ Athlete Are Banned From Future Competition

The Equality Act: Biological Men Competing Against Women in Sports is Problematic

Riley Gaines and 15 Other Female Athletes Sue NCAA Over ‘Transgender Policy’

New Study: Testosterone Blockers and Female Hormones Don’t Erase Male-Female Athletic Differences

Appeals Court Revives Case Disputing Men’s Participation in Women’s Sports