A report for the UK Sports Council argued last week that there was no magical solution that would balance trans women’s involvement in female sport while guaranteeing competitive fairness and safety, and urged the sport to decide what to prioritize . The Guardian invited two activists with different views on the report to share their verdicts.
Nicola Williams: “It cannot be right for a sport to continue to give priority to the wishes of transsexuals over fairness and safety for women”
The new report for the UK Sports Councils on the involvement of transgender people in sport confirms what we all know: sex is important in sport. That is why we have always needed, and still do, our own proprietary category for women.
The Sports Guide concludes that women only exercise is both terrible and necessary to ensure fair and safe inclusion of women. This puts an end to the idea that it is possible to include male people in the category of female sports without compromising fairness and safety.
The sport now has to make a choice. You can continue to prioritize trans women in women’s sports at the expense of women and girls. Or they can protect the future of women’s sports by restoring the integrity of the female category and finding new ways to increase trans women’s participation.
This was a comprehensive review, gathering opinions from all sides: scientists, athletes, lawyers, trans groups, women’s groups. When an organization is serious about the issue, the problems are undeniable. Over the past year, World Rugby has taken the necessary steps to protect women’s rugby.
And now the sports councils are trying to do the same. Great to see British sport grab the bull by the horns. Everyone knows that the current system is not suited for the purpose. Even the International Olympic Committee said so this summer. But it’s the UK Sports Councils that have taken the lead in trying to find a new way forward. For this they need to be praised.
Sports councils have proposed an option that is fair and inclusive for all in sport: an “open” category for all and a fair and safe female sex category for born women. If the sport really wants to be maximally inclusive, it will. Remember, transsexuals are not excluded from exercising. Most sports already have an open category and transsexuals can and do play there. But what trans activists wanted is for trans people to be able to choose the sex category they play in.
That’s not how sport works – nobody chooses where they belong in sport. Adults cannot choose to play junior games. Healthy athletes cannot choose to participate in Paralympic sports. Heavyweights cannot identify as world weights. The same should apply to trans people. People with male bodies shouldn’t be able to compete in the female gender category because women and girls pay the price.
We applaud the new science and law clarity in this review, but it didn’t go quite enough to protect the future of sport for women and girls. They failed to send a clear signal that sport must always offer safe and fair access for women and girls. It is not optional or a “nice to have”. It is the minimum requirement for women’s sport. This can only be done by offering a female gender category. It cannot be right for a sport to continue to prioritize the wishes of trans people over fairness and safety for women.
But seeing it in black and white means we can now hold the sport accountable. Challenge them when they devalue women’s sport. They will accept their bad choices and face the wrath of women when they are wrong. No more hiding or waving your hand to reconcile inclusion with fairness and security. You can not.
Now the sport faces an easy decision. They either restore gender categories based on the gender of birth so that women’s sports are safe and fair. Or they can continue with their current fudge, an unfair and unsafe sport for women that lets male-born trans people play in the category of their choice. Any sport that devalues the integrity of women’s football is now being debunked.
Dr. Nicola Williams is the director of Fair Play for Women
Natalie Washington: “The solutions reflect opportunities that have been missed and destroyed for transgender people”
As with many transgender people, coming out with loved ones, getting access to health care, updating personal information, and figuring out what relationships I could maintain was a long, stressful, and often lonely experience. During this time, sport was my liberation. It was what gave me space to relax, stay active, and have a more productive relationship with my body. If I didn’t like the way it looked, at least I could try to like it.
The publication of the Sports Councils Equality Group’s guidelines last week came as a surprise to many who work in LGBTQ + sports inclusion, and it has landed hard for many trans people. Trans people who have been participating in clubs for years and building friendships with their teammates are now threatened with expulsion. If the messages I received from other trans people last week are any clue, surely the memo has arrived that sport in the UK sees trans people as a problem to be overcome.
Those who welcome this document point to a review of the literature that they believe suggests that trans women have a persistent unfair advantage in sport, but the research used to draw this conclusion lacks diversity. It overlooks other significant work on the subject, including two peer-reviewed publications from Blair Hamilton (University of Brighton) in 2021. She inferred that her conclusions are evidence-based, but experts in the field acknowledge that the research is in Is in progress and this is not a justification for excluding trans people.
The report by the sports councils received mixed responses. Photo: Jonathan Kirn / Getty Images
Important questions such as the impact of the proposed solutions on participation (stated as the main objective) on the general well-being of those involved in sport, both transgender and cis-gender, are not asked.
The proposed solutions reflect missed and destroyed opportunities for transgender people. One suggested option is a status quo for most sports – participation based on a number of aptitude questions related to paperwork and physiology. In fact, the guidance document highlights the majority of sports whose existing guidelines report positive experiences.
It suggests that “a case-by-case assessment is neither practical nor verifiable” but does not explain how this conclusion was reached. This is how it currently works in most sports and offers a reasonable approach. Because size and athletic performance cannot be precisely predicted based on the gender that is recorded on a birth certificate.
The second option is to replace the male category with an open one and to reinforce the female category in order to only include the “registered women at birth”. This raises many questions about policing in this category. The sport has an ugly history of treating women horribly in situations like this – Ugandan sprinter Annet Negesa is a recent example. Such draconian selection criteria could wreak havoc at the elite level and threaten the welcoming culture that has blossomed at the national competitive level, resulting in lower grassroots participation.
The last option is the biggest missed opportunity of all. Under the heading “Create additional versions (universal approval)” it suggests that sport forms a “third category” if “participation does not depend on the gender of a competitor”.
This presented a real opportunity to question why people play sports to find innovative solutions that allow mixed participation in grassroots football. Instead, we are offered a “trans category,” something that is impractical in practice.
Trying to find as many as 22 trans women footballers in Norfolk to play a single game, let alone a whole league, is impossible. Outside of the largest metropolitan areas, it’s impractical and that’s the real kick here. Once again, trans people were thrown in the trash, too inconvenient to be properly taken in.
I remember Janice Raymond’s 1979 book The Transsexual Empire, which is so influential on modern anti-trans movements, in which she suggests that “the problem of transsexuality would be best served if it were morally challenged from existence “. If this guide leads to the fact that the participation of transsexuals is reduced to a sporting afterthought, this process seems to have started.
Natalie Washington is the campaign manager for Football Against Transphobia