Stephanie Labbé Banned from Men’s Professional League

By | May 5, 2018

Stephanie Labbé, Canada’s starting goalkeeper is trying her luck playing on a men’s team. The 31-year-old from Alberta stepped away from her NWSL club the Washington Spirit midway through the 2017 season after struggling with mental health. After struggling to find a solution in the NWSL through trades, Labbé looked to stay closer to home and finally found the PDL club Calgary Foothills as a place to call her new home. Labbé has been training with the men’s pro team for several weeks playing in preseason matches and earned her spot on the final roster for the season.

Just this week the Professional Development League said that Labbé was ineligible to play. Labbé explained on her personal blog, “After inquiring to the league, the PDL’s initial response was that as per the rules, ‘the PDL is a men’s league’ and ‘given that the PDL is a gender-based league, women are ineligible to play.” The league further explained that there are professional women’s leagues that Steph can play on, and therefore there is no excuse for her to play in the PDL.

There isn’t one women’s professional team in all of Canada.

Further, after reading every Canadian National News article available on the topic, I kept coming across the same question: What is the league REALLY banning her for?

I keep reading “gender” and “gender identity” and am puzzled by the notion of banning someone from a sports team because of their “gender”. Maybe the world is looking for a different word here, and that word is ‘sex’, or maybe they are really just banning Steph because of her gender identity.

Before I try to dispel any argument made by the PDL, let’s have a little lesson on the difference between ‘sex’ and ‘gender’.

Assigned at birth, sex is most commonly defined by primary sex characteristics, that is, the presence or absence of a phallus (even though for some people this isn’t such a clear distinction, and neither are chromosomes, internal reproductive organs, hormones etc). Gender, on the other hand, is a socially constructed concept of what it means to be a man or a woman. Further, gender identity is defined as a person’s internal experience and can range from cisgender, transgender, genderqueer and other identities not specified here.

Is the league banning Labbé based on her internal understanding of what it means to be a man or a woman or neither/both? What does Steph’s understanding of if she likes stereotyped feminine clothing, feminine pronouns, and perhaps gender roles have to do with her ability to play football?

Or perhaps, is the league banning her based on her “biological sex”. The reason for traditional sex segregation in sports is to provide an opportunity for biological females to compete, as biological males are usually considered stronger, and faster. As I explained earlier, sex is often determined by external genitalia. In the case of most sports, the defining biological factor to distinguish males from females is testosterone, a hormone that aids in muscle and bone growth.  The understanding of equal opportunity in athletics for biological males and biological females is hinged on the fact that biological females wouldn’t be able to compete amongst the top biological male athletes. The boundary set isn’t so biological females over dominate biological male leagues, but rather the opposite.

So, does anyone allow biological females to compete on biological male teams?

Indeed, they do! For this, we need to look at rules for transgender athletes.  For the world’s most prominent sports governing bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and in North America, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), transgender men who have not undergone a physical transition (biological females) are allowed to compete amongst biological males.

The PDL doesn’t seem to have an argument for excluding Labbé based on biological sex when more prestigious organizations have deemed this case to not only be safe, but also fair for competition. So then, are they excluding Labbé because of her gender?

I know I know, sexism and sports go hand in hand. Men prove their heterosexuality and masculinity by participating in extreme forms of masculinity such as sports that highlight aggression and strength. A woman competing amongst the men would absolutely dispel that notion.

It okay boys, no one is questioning your masculinity, just let Labbé play.


Do you think Stephanie Labbé should be able to play in the PDL? Comment below:



3 thoughts on “Stephanie Labbé Banned from Men’s Professional League

  1. Rynx Healer

    Earlier this year, Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé was looking for a new team to train with. Having played for women’s teams in Europe and the US, and come home with a bronze medal from the Rio 2016 Olympics, she felt ready for a new challenge.
    A common argument against men and women playing together is that they simply have different physical characteristics and abilities. But these findings are averages, and don’t mean that no woman can exist who is capable of achieving the same results as an elite male player.

  2. R

    Sex is the relevant variable here for one key reason: testosterone. Testosterone gives huge advantages in a variety of areas, from muscle mass to lung capacity to bone density, and this is why supplemental testosterone is not allowed in many athletic leagues. Sex is absolutely the variable to be concerned with, as biological males are proving in women’s leagues.

    People born male have key physical advantages, and so should not be allowed into female leagues, for reasons of fairness. People born female do not have these key physical advantages, relative to males, and so the argument against their participation is much harder to make.

    If the league discriminates based on sex, they should say so, and it would still be within the interest of fairness to let her compete.


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