Football Association slammed after non-binary footballer ‘told they shouldn’t be allowed to play’

Deenah al-Aqsa February 9, 2022
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A person wearing black trainers stands on a football pitch. The trainers have rainbow laces to show support for the LGBT+ community

Rainbow football laces. (Getty/Laurence Griffiths)

Footballers have spoken out after a trans non-binary player was reportedly told they should not be allowed to play in a “women’s league”.

The Football Association’s policy on trans players has come under scrutiny after an official with the local grassroots league, Super 5, reportedly said a trans non-binary football player “should not be allowed to play in a ‘women’s league’”.

Super 5 bills itself as an inclusive league for women and non-binary people.

“He [the official] stated he was worried for future opponent’s welfare, and because of this, our trans non-binary player should not be allowed to play in a ‘women’s league’,” read an Instagram post (since made private) by Camden Bells FC.

Camden Bells added that it was boycotting the Hackney, London-based league after the incident with its player.

Players were reportedly told the by the official that they were only following the Football Association’s policies, and directed to the FA’s 2014 policy on trans people in football, which uses outdated terms like “transsexual” and demands evidence of trans players’ hormone levels. It makes no mention of non-binary football players.

Cloaked in the appearance of inclusivity, the Football Association states that these measures are necessary to protect fairness and players’ safety. It is unclear how strictly or widely this policy is enforced, but the document does state that “a person shall not be entitled to play football matches in their affirmed gender… until such time as they have been provided with written clearance by The FA” 

Under the rulebook, the FA reserves “absolute discretion to refuse an application to ensure the applicant’s safety and that of other participants, and/or fair competition”.

After Camden Bells’ boycott was joined by a number of other amateur groups, the Super 5 League put out a statement on Instagram announcing the suspension of all fixtures.

It stated that “Super 5 league has never banned a player for who they are and never will”, and that no Camden Bells player “has been told they cannot play”.

“Super 5 League fully support the inclusion of all trans and non-binary players within the league and all walks of life,” it added.

Camden Bells founder Hannah Thornley told Sky Sports that conversations with Amateur FA were unhelpful, and that the Bells specifically joined Super 5 because of its inclusive claim. The team thought that as it was joining a grassroots league, they would not be asked to comply with the FA’s policy on trans players.

Non-binary football players say ‘either we all play, or we don’t at all’

Lui Asquith plays in the Super 5 League. “The rules surrounding grassroots football are draconian and over the top,” they told PinkNews.

“No one should be prevented from playing the game they love because they’re trans, including non-binary. The current FA policy insists on gender policing and bodily invasion, which is cruel and should not be entertained.

“Football is for everyone and a biological essentialist attitude to inclusion hurts everyone, not just trans people. Every player is impacted and we must not allow for the game we love to be interfered with. I can only play if all my teammates can play without fear of being singled out. We are a team and football is a community for everyone. Anything else isn’t good enough.”

Another Super 5 League player, Zeenat, who was also due to play in league, told PinkNews: “Being made to feel unsafe in a space that was created to give us somewhere safe to play football has been an overwhelming experience to say the least.

“As someone who falls on more than one intersection, I would find it incredibly unjust to continue to affiliate with a space that imposes archaic rules and regulations on its players. I refuse to participate in any event where a trans/enby sibling of mine is ever made to feel out of place and for this reason we will keep pushing for change. 

“We will continue to make noise and bring awareness to the hurt and pain caused to folx who just want to play football. Either we all get a chance to play or we don’t play at all.

Outdated FA rules on trans players

The FA says at the start of its trans policy that “gender identity should not be a barrier to participation in football”, but its support for trans inclusion is conditional. It demands medical evidence (a struggle for people on waiting lists for gender identity clinics – many for up to five years), and in its own words, is subject to being “verified annually”.

The implication made is that if a player’s hormone levels fail to reach the threshold set out in the policy, they potentially compromise the safety of other players. This reinforces existing stereotypes and misconceptions about trans people, in particular trans women. Additionally, nowhere in the policy does it mention non-binary football players, and how the policy applies to them.

The FA in 2016 released supporting guidance with Gendered Intelligence, a “trans-led and trans-involving grassroots organisation”, which states: “It is important to avoid the assumptions that someone who current has (or in the past has had) male physical attributes will post a safety risk when playing football with women”. 

It even busts the myth around a trans woman’s supposed “unfair advantage”. Nonetheless, even with this added nuance, this guidance does not rule out excluding someone on the basis of purported safety or fair play.

An FA spokesperson gave this statement: “We are aware of and will look into the issues raised with both the league and affiliated county FA in order to ascertain all of the facts. 

“The FA released its transgender policy in 2014, which outlines ways in which trans people can enjoy playing football. We also commissioned Gendered Intelligence, an organisation which specialises in trans inclusion, to develop guidance on approaches to including trans people in football. 

“Our current policy positioning has enabled positive outcomes for trans people, and assisted in allowing participants to continue playing football either in their affirmed gender or in a safe and inclusive environment. We are passionate about ensuring that football is for all and we will continue to work with Gendered Intelligence to provide additional information to supplement our policy and related guidance, which are currently being reviewed this season.”

Nobody should have to choose between playing sport and being themselves.

Gendered Intelligence told PinkNews: “We were not involved in setting the FA’s 2015 trans policy. This policy had already been developed when we were invited to provide supporting guidance.

“Although we could not influence the terms of the original policy, we have continued to work with the FA in the interests of trans inclusion in sport and physical activity. The FA has been in initial contact regarding a refresh of their existing policy, and we are keen to support them and any other national governing bodies on their journey towards inclusivity and equity in sport.

“We fully support the Camden Bells and other teams who are pressing for better trans inclusivity, particularly around the recognition and acceptance of non-binary team mates, who are often left out of conversations around sport. We are glad to see that these conversations are happening now, and we hope that they lead to effective, practical change. Nobody should have to choose between playing sport and being themselves.”

Camden Bells was contacted for comment.

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