New trans guidance is ‘backwards step’, say UK’s leading LGBTIQ+ sports organisations

Pride Sports, LEAP Sports Scotland and LGBT+ Sport Cymru say guidance issued by UK’s Sports Councils “presents false dichotomy of inclusion and fairness”; review by Equality Group recommends national governing bodies consider adopting one of three options – prioritising trans inclusion; creating ‘female’ and ‘open’ categories; or offer ‘universal admission’

By Jon Holmes

Updated guidance issued to UK national governing bodies on how to approach transgender inclusion “is in danger of closing down rather than opening up sport to everyone”, according to a statement issued by the LGBTIQ+ Sport and Physical Activity Alliance.

The Alliance comprises Britain’s three leading organisations working in this space – Pride Sports, LEAP Sports Scotland, and LGBT+ Sport Cymru. They have responded to the newly-published ‘Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport’ issued by the UK Sports Councils following a review undertaken by its Equality Group (SCEG).

The review involved a consultation of athletes and other individuals as well as analysis of some of the existing research. A conclusion has been drawn by SCEG that “there may not be a common single competition model which will meet the needs of full transgender inclusion while retaining competitive fairness, particularly in female sport.”

As a result, a recommendation has been made to NGBs and SGBs (Scottish governing bodies) that they should use a decision-making framework based on 10 “guiding principles” and ultimately consider three options for their sports:

  • Prioritise transgender inclusion“Based on the current system, which prioritises inclusion of transgender people into existing sex categories of gender-affected sport”
  • Female and open category“NGBs and SGBs may choose to offer sport in which the female category is protected for reasons of competitive fairness and/or safety if they are gender affected. These sports would offer both a female category and an open category. Female entries would be required to declare themselves as recorded female at birth”
  • Create additional versions (“universal admission”)“A third option for many sports would focus on universal community inclusion which may not require estimation of ability. NGBs and SGBs are encouraged to develop a model of their sport in which participation is not dependent on a competitor’s sex or gender, and the classification based on the sex binary is withdrawn for this competition”

In conclusion, the Guidance states: “The Sports Councils will work with NGBs and SGBs in order to find the optimal outcome for their sport. Education and training in policy development will be offered to facilitate best practice and the greatest opportunities for inclusion in sport.”

In its response, the LGBTIQ+ Sport and Physical Activity Alliance vowed to continue working with NGBs to support “the development of inclusive and equitable sport for trans and non-binary people”, with members of those gender-diverse groups consulted and their experiences centered.

Citing research from the 2019 Outsport survey that shows over half of trans people feel excluded from certain sports or have stopped playing as a result of discrimination around their gender identity, the Alliance organisations’ statement read: “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.

“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.”

Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organisation and the charity behind the long-running Rainbow Laces campaign, also urged the Sports Councils to think deeply about how trans athletes might be impacted by its Equality Group’s new guidance.

“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,” said Stonewall’s director of communications Robbie de Santos.

“Amidst the current manufactured moral panic around trans people, it is important that governing bodies’ policies are based on solid evidence about the reality of sport and inclusion.

“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.

“We urge that the Sport Councils Equality Group reflect on the real-life impacts of this guidance on trans people who play sport, and support the development of more robust research, based on the current realities of trans inclusion in sport, in order to better guide governing bodies.”

Several concerns have been raised with Sports Media LGBT+ that individuals and groups with relevant experience relating to trans inclusion in sport in the UK were not invited to be part of the consultation undertaken as part of the SCEG review.

The broadcaster Philippa York, a Stonewall Sport Champion and Scottish Cycling Equality Ambassador who competed in the Tour de France before her transition, tweeted to say she was not approached. York is one of just a handful of current and former British athletes who are trans or non-binary and who have participated in competitive sport.

Quote tweeting York, the racing driver Charlie Martin – also a Stonewall Sport Champion, and whose ambition is to be the first 24 Hours of Le Mans competitor who is trans – wrote: “I can echo Philippa’s statement, I don’t know of any elite / professional level trans athletes or sportspeople who were consulted by the policy makers of this latest attack on transgender inclusion in sport.”

In one of the accompanying documents published on the SCEG website on Thursday titled ‘Project Report’, it is recorded that a company called Carbmill Consulting – based in Perth, Australia – was contracted to review the existing guidance and conduct new interviews and surveys.

Between April and October 2020, 166 people who could provide relevant input were interviewed one-on-one, with 20 of them being “transgender individuals or family members.” In addition, there were 135 responders to a survey request sent by Carbmill.

Mermaids also issued a statement – the charity supports trans, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families.

“We are disappointed to read this review, which rather than focussing on bettering its existing guidance for trans people in sport, yet again ignores the lived experiences of trans people, and misinterprets the Equality Act and academic literature.

“This report will have ramifications for trans people in the sporting community, and only seeks to cause unnecessary hostility, exclusion and confusion for those wishing to participate in sport.

“It is important to remember that the SCEG report only exists as guidance: it is not mandatory. Sports groups and organisations are entitled and encouraged to write and implement their own policies on including trans and non-binary people in sport.”

Do you have experience in sport that relates to the new guidance, or would you like to raise questions about the recommendations being made? Sports Media LGBT+ is keen to learn how the advice now being issued to NGBs may impact on athletes, particularly those who are trans and non-binary, and their allies. We can also help to put you in touch with sports and inclusion organisations. You can contact us in confidence here.

Further reading: ‘Glaring holes emerge in new UK trans sports guidance as athletes fear for their future’ (Emma Powys Maurice, PinkNews)


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