What does the new transgender guidance mean for sports in UK? | Sean Ingle

Explainer: All competitive sports in Britain could be affected by the new guidance as it urges governing bodies to weigh up competing pressures of inclusion, fairness and safety

Who is this new transgender guidance for? All competitive sports across Britain, from grassroots to national level. As things stand, most of them follow International Olympic Committee guidelines from 2015, which state that trans women can compete in the female category if they suppress their testosterone to below 10n/mol per litre for 12 months. However, as the guidelines note, the IOC recently said such an approach was no longer fit for purpose because of emerging research into the “retained advantage” that trans women are likely to have.

What are the key points in the new guidelines? Essentially the five sports councils – which fund and invest in sport across Great Britain and Northern Ireland – are saying three things: 1) The science shows that trans women retain physique, strength and stamina advantages; 2) There is no magic solution that balances trans inclusion in female gender-affected sport with competitive fairness and safety; 3) Therefore some sports will have to make a conscious choice prioritising either inclusion or fairness and safety.

What is meant here by the terms inclusion, fairness and safety? To quote the guidelines directly, “we are using ‘inclusion’ to mean the inclusion of transgender people into the category of their choice. ‘Fairness’ means competitive equity in relation to the sex category, and as defined within the Equality Act in relation to strength, stamina and physique in gender-affected sport. ‘Safety’, which is also referenced in the Equality Act, refers to safety from the risk of injury.”

What solutions do the guidelines suggest? The guidance suggests three potential paths for sports: prioritising transgender inclusion, protecting the female category by having an “open” and a “female-only” section, and coming up with new formats for sport so that they can be played by everyone safely and fairly.

What do the guidelines say about safety? Sports are reminded there is a “hierarchy of contact” starting with sports which compete in parallel – such as swimming, darts and dressage. That hierarchy then moves on to contact sports, including netball and football, then collision sports such as rugby, before ending at combat sports including boxing and taekwondo. “Estimation of safety is relevant at all levels of sport,” it adds. “And in some cases may be more important at community-level competition where lower skill level may increase risk.”

What are sports likely to make of the new guidelines? Most are expected to welcome them as they will provide much-needed clarity – and cover – when setting their own rules. However it will pose challenges for some.

Are there any such examples? The most obvious one concerns the Rugby Football Union, which suggested this year that trans women could be individually assessed to see whether it was safe for them to play rugby in England. Not only do the guidelines suggest there are safety concerns with collision sports, they are also critical of the idea of individual assessments for various reasons. “It is difficult to foresee how someone could be expected to provide maximal effort when a positive outcome for them relies on achieving a lesser result,” the guidelines state.

Why aren’t the five sports councils giving definitive advice to sports? The guidance accepts that “this is a complex area and what is right for one sport may not be right for another”. It points out that none of the sports councils are regulators and there is no one solution to suit everyone.

What does it say about transgender men? “In most sports, transgender men will be able to compete without restriction in the male (or open) category,” the guidelines state. “However, those sports which include collision or combat may wish to institute safety guidance for the sake of the transgender competitor.” However transgender men are not allowed to compete in female categories once treatment with testosterone commences, as this would constitute a doping violation as per World Anti-Doping Agency regulations.

How did the review come about and who did they speak to? The guidelines are the result of an 18-month consultation alongside a review of peer-reviewed public studies. The consultation included a mixture of face-to-face interviews and written surveys across a huge diversity of sports and countries – with 300 individuals from 27 countries and 175 organisations involved. Those spoken to included current and former athletes, people from the LGBT+ and women’s groups and communities, and transgender people.

What does it say about transgender inclusion? “All of the Sports Councils are committed to the inclusion of transgender people in sport and physical activity,” the guidelines state. “In keeping with the findings of this review, the goals of acceptance, social inclusion and physical activity may be best achieved outside of the sex binary in grassroots and domestic sport. The introduction of new and different models within sport offers an alternative option to meet the needs of people across all the strands of the Equality Act.”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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