Glaring holes emerge in new UK trans sports guidance as athletes fear for their future
Trans athletes have spoken of their concern for their future in sport following the release of worrying new guidance that argues for separate competitive categories.
The new guidance published by the UK’s Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG) on Thursday (30 September) states that the current policies on trans inclusion are not fit for purpose and that “inclusion, fairness and safety” often cannot co-exist in sport.
Going forward, the SCEG suggests that the governing bodies for each sport should work out their priorities and choose whether they will focus on trans inclusion or “competitive fairness”.
The review has sent shockwaves through the LGBT+ sporting community as trans athletes are left questioning whether they have a future in the sport they love.
“I think the abiding emotion is concern, worry. Questions of what does this mean for me, what does this mean for the friendships I have in my team, am I still going to be allowed to participate?” asked Nathalie Washington, a trans woman who plays for Rushmore Community FC and leads the Football v Transphobia campaign.
The answer to those questions depends entirely on if and how individual sports choose to implement the SCEG’s guidance. While many trans people are in favour of non-gendered categories in sport – Natalie included – others see it as a form of segregation.
“There’s a concern that these teams could become a dumping ground for trans, non-binary, gender non-conforming and intersex people who essentially feel like they aren’t wanted in the binary categories,” Natalie said.
“And what that ultimately results in, particularly in areas where there’s a lower density of population, is people not being able to participate.
“Practically speaking, where are we going to find 150 trans footballers in Hampshire or Wiltshire to participate in a league? There just isn’t the density of trans people. So what that means is those people will not be able to take part in the sport that they love.”
New sports guidelines will be devastating to trans kids, advocates fear
The SCEG’s guidelines are not mandatory and sporting bodies can still form their own policies to work towards inclusion, as rugby player Verity Smith is keen to point out.
However, as the trans inclusion in sport officer for trans youth charity Mermaids, he’s keenly aware of how devastating exclusionary policies can be for trans kids seeking to break into sport.
“I’m a gay trans man with a disability. A former elite rugby player, I now play wheelchair rugby league. My identities are all very important to me, and yet my disability is the only part of me that is supported by inclusion policies,” he said.
“I know the impact the SCEG review will have on the gender diverse young people we support who are already facing barriers to participating in sport. Numbers of trans and non-binary people participating in sport are already in decline in sport due to fear and harassment, particularly on social media, which is awash with manufactured antagonism.
He worries this report will encourage hostility towards trans and non-binary people in sport and undo the hard work that national governing bodies and grassroots sports organisations have done towards inclusion.
“Young people learn social skills from participation and we know sport supports mental health, which is particularly important in the current climate.”
Only 20 trans people were interviewed in the report
The SCEG says its findings were based on the views, knowledge, and experience of hundreds of people with a “lived experience” in sport. It claims it surveyed a “diverse group” spread across more than 54 sports and representing 175 organisations.
However, the report’s methodology indicates that transgender people were a tiny minority of those consulted, representing only 20 of the 300 interviews conducted.
“I know for a fact that three leading trans women in sport have not been consulted AT ALL about their lived experience in sport,” notes ITV’s Beth Fisher, who was interviewed in her capacity as an ex-athlete.
“Several things alarmed me at the time and major red flags popped up. I have consulted with people I trust who also listened to the interview.
“This was their opinion: The questions were leading, this was a not a robust consultation, it was not objective, it was not far reaching. It provided only personal experience, there was no interrogation on where opinions came from. It was not fit for purpose.”
Natalie agrees. “This feels like something that has been done to the trans community and not with the trans community,” she said. “Many people involved in LGBT+ sports activism are upset with the way this has been handled, because they feel like they haven’t been properly consulted.”
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PinkNews contacted the five UK sporting bodies that form the SCEG, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Its report highlights that although it found concerns relating to safety and fairness in relation to transgender inclusion, particularly in female sport, there was also “widespread support for ensuring that sport was a welcoming place for everyone in society, including for transgender people”.
“It was clear too that a wider range of solutions than those that are currently on offer needed to be identified so that everyone taking part could do so in a fair, safe and inclusive way,” it says.
However, trans athletes, advocates and allies see little inclusion in the report’s verdict. To them, it’s a very clear step backwards.
“We need to see positive change and address a lack of policies, lack of representation and lack of support which enables trans and non-binary people to engage and participate the same as their peers instead of letting the voices of gender critics, who have no background in sporting arenas or lived experience, dominate and derail the conversation,” Verity said.
“Sport is a human right and that’s for all humans. Take the word trans out of the equation and you have a dedicated athlete.”