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Transgender inclusion review says some sports should create new categories of competition

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UK sports are grappling with how they need to adapt after a major review found the inclusion of trans athletes cannot always ensure a level playing field for all competitors.

The Sports Council’s Equality Group said “differences in strength, stamina and physique” mean a new approach is required in some sports.

“For many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model,” the review said.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Soccer Football - Women - Gold medal match - Sweden v Canada - International Stadium Yokohama, Yokohama, Japan - August 6, 2021. Filippa Angeldahl of Sweden in action with Quinn of Canada. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
Image: Canada’s Quinn (R) became the first openly trans athlete to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics

The guidance relates to grassroots mass participation sport, going up to national level, but not elite competition.

The move to “reset” the system has been welcomed by campaigners who have long called for the rights of women and girls to be acknowledged as well as the rights of trans athletes to compete.

Dr Nicola Williams, director of Fair Play For Women, said the existing approach is “out of date and no longer fit for purpose”.

“This comprehensive review confirms what we all know: sex matters in sport,” she added. “That’s why we have always needed a separate protected category for females, and still do.

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“This guidance puts an end to the idea that it is possible to allow people who were born male into the female sports category without women and girls paying the price.”

The concept of creating different categories of competition is new in the UK and is designed to ensure everybody has the chance to compete.

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The Sports Council’s proposals suggest sports consider three options. They could prioritise transgender inclusion, they could create “open” and “female” categories of competition, or they could add additional versions of their competitions.

However, some trans athletes fear that increased checks on whether competitors were declared female at birth could result in fewer gender-diverse people wanting to take part in sport.

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Natalie Washington, a trans footballer from Hampshire, told Sky News: “The message that this is sending to young trans people wanting to be involved in sports is that their involvement is problematic.

“I think it’s created a culture of being worried about including trans people and that’s a real shame. I’ve got a lot out of being involved in sport and I know there are so many trans people out there who would love to get that same joy and I worry that today we’ve pushed them away”.

The review authors made it clear that is not the intention of the guidance.

Joanna Harper, who has worked as an adviser to the Olympic Games on the inclusion of trans athletes, told Sky News she welcomed many aspects of the review but added: “The suggestion that the maintained advantages of trans women preclude equitable competition or safety in women’s sports is questionable at best.

“There is much research yet to do before we can quantify the maintained advantages of trans athletes, but trans women have been competing in women’s sports for more than 40 years and are still severely under represented.

“Trans women are not on the verge of taking over women’s sport.”

Sports governing bodies in the UK are now working to understand how the guidance applies to them.

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Chief Executive of British Triathlon, Andy Salmon, told Sky News: “We are well used to categories. We have categories for disability but we also have many categories in triathlon for age as well.

“So it is something that we are quite used to and I think it could give us an advantage when we are considering how to build on this guidance and form our own policies.”

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This summer’s Olympic Games saw New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard become the first openly trans Olympian in an individual event.

Footballer Quinn became the first trans and non-binary Olympic champion after Canada won the gold medal in the women’s football competition.

The International Olympic Committee acknowledged this summer that its own rules that revolve around checks on testosterone levels in trans athletes need to be further updated.