Mixed reception for new guidelines on transgender inclusion in sport

  • ‘Difficult decisions must not be avoided,’ says Women In Sport
  • Stonewall describes guidance as ‘extremely harmful’

The new transgender inclusion guidelines for sport in Britain have been broadly welcomed by a number of sports and women’s organisations, including Women in Sport. However they have also faced criticism from LGBT+ groups, such as Pride Sports and Stonewall.

The Guardian revealed on Wednesday that the five sports councils in the UK – which invest hundreds of millions of pounds in sport every year – had concluded there was no magic solution that balances the inclusion of trans women in female sport while guaranteeing competitive fairness and safety. That, says the new guidance, is because the latest science “makes clear” that trans women retain significant physique, stamina and strength advantages, even when they reduce testosterone levels.

The guidance concludes by suggesting to sports that they will have to prioritise between trans inclusion and fairness – while also urging them to come up with “fresh ways” to be inclusive.

Those principles were strongly supported by British Triathlon. In a statement, the organisation, which won three medals at the Tokyo Olympics, said it “welcomes the new guidance, which was robustly researched, with data collected from over 300 respondents representing 175 organisations”.

British Triathlon’s chief executive, Andy Salmon, added: “We will now take some time to digest and work out how it can be utilised to take further steps to make swim, bike, run as inclusive as possible whilst protecting the concepts of fairness and safety.”

UK Athletics and the Rugby Football League also said they welcomed the new guidance. “This is a very important topic for all sports and has implications for rugby league at all levels,” added Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s chief on-field officer.

“There are significant points made in the guiding principles about the importance of ensuring fairness and prioritising player safety, and also the difficulty and sensitivity of these issues. We are committed to making rugby league as inclusive as possible, while also remaining mindful of the importance of fairness to, and the safety of, all participants.”

Women in Sport, a charity set up in 1984, issued a nuanced statement which reflected on the difficulties of policy in this area before urging sports not to avoid difficult decisions.

“For those organising sport, difficult decisions lie ahead, but they must not avoid them, because they matter,” it said. “For a long time, the complexities of this issue and the implications for women’s sport seem not to have been properly considered. The evidence is increasingly suggesting that the approach of simply measuring testosterone levels in the blood is not taking into account the full breadth of biological differences between people who have gone through male versus female puberty.

“Debate, whether within organisations, in the media or on social media, does have a place in sport and in wider society. Unfortunately, the debate on transgender women’s inclusion in sport has not always been based on science, it has often excluded women – whether natal or transgender – and on occasion it has been far from respectful.

“Global sporting organisations and national governing bodies must listen to the voices of both natal and transgender women and map out a path, based on science, that better appreciates the complexities involved.”

LGBT+ groups, however, have been critical of the new guidelines. Pride Sports warned that a high number of trans people already feel excluded from particular sports. “Finding ways to improve this situation should be the priority for new trans guidance, and we are deeply disappointed that the review does not do this,” it said.

“Instead, it is our belief that it will impact negatively on inclusion for trans people in sport and could result in trans people who are already playing sport being forcibly stopped, and inclusive sport opportunities being reduced. The guidance is in danger of closing down rather than opening up sport to everyone.

“We also believe the new guidance presents a false dichotomy of inclusion and fairness and faces NGBs [national governing bodies] and SGBs [Scottish governing bodies] with a choice between the two.”

Robbie de Santos, the director of communications at Stonewall, also condemned the report. “It is extremely harmful for this guidance to suggest that there is an inherent conflict between inclusion, fairness and safety, when in reality, the three go hand in hand,” he said.

“The truth is that trans women are already participating in sports, without any evidence that they are disproportionately succeeding in competitive sport or posing safety risks – which this guidance fails to properly reflect in its use of data.

“The beauty of sport is that it is for everyone, and this guidance moves us away from that core principle, by creating confusing, unnecessary distinctions for sporting bodies to navigate.”

The report from the sports councils’ equality group was not welcomed by all sports bodies, with the British Kickboxing Council being a dissenting voice. “It is NOT mandatory for NGBs,” it said in a statement. “Trans people have every right to participate in sport at ALL levels without discrimination and we will continue to follow our current policy, which maintains a fair and unbiased approach.”


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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