Women in Sport argue that almost every sport is impacted to some degree by biological differences between genders and that universal clarity would be preferable also for transgender women so that other avenues of inclusion – such as the potential introduction of open categories – could be more actively developed.
The charity, which was founded in 1984, has decided to publicly state their position following conversations with women and girls who say that they are currently caught between silently accepting unfair competition and speaking up amid what has become a toxic debate.
“In 2023, few in the UK would actively and openly seek to deny women and girls access to sport,” says the Women in Sport statement. “But our concern is that if we continue to ignore the biological differences between men and women, and girls and boys, we are inadvertently doing just that. It’s impossible for anyone to make up for the injustice, lost dreams and memories of past generations, but we can’t let another generation of girls down today.
“The best science currently available concludes that ‘there are apparent life-long physiological advantages in the adult male, only some of which can be reversed’.
“These advantages show why it is vital for fair sport that the female category in competitive sport – all competitive sport – should be protected for natal women and girls. Collisions, tackles, and other contact between boys and girls, men and women are inherently much more dangerous for girls and women. The fear of this kind of physical injury can, and does, lead to self-exclusion by women.
“New and better approaches are needed to enable transgender inclusion in sport to ensure that everyone can compete safely and fairly.”
There has been deep frustration at the progress of governing bodies since the UK’s Sports Councils issued new guidance more than two years ago which said that inclusion could not be balanced with safety and fairness. Cycling, for example, was faced with the threat of riders boycotting the national championships last year when Emily Bridges, a transgender woman, had entered the competition after apparently meeting all the requirements for testosterone reduction. She was then told that she could not compete and left in limbo for more than a year while the policy was reviewed. There is a feeling that sports not dealing with the issue has become a worst of all worlds situation. There is also concern that governing bodies are prioritising policy at the elite level and overlooking the grassroots.
Among those who have contacted Women in Sport is a footballer who says that she has stopped playing after the experience of competing with and against transgender women. “Women have lost their category … while men’s sport is unaffected,” she wrote.
“In everyone’s efforts to make transwomen feel safe and included, I feel unsafe and excluded. Adult male-to-female transitioners have had a lifetime of male socialisation and experience of training and playing boys’/men’s football, giving them a wealth of advantages, in addition to their biology and the advantage of having undergone male puberty.”
The FA says that their transgender policy “has enabled many positive outcomes for people who wish to enjoy and play football either in their affirmed gender or in a safe and inclusive environment” but that it is currently under review.
Parkrun, which allows participants to self identify but does also let them select “another gender identity” or not register a gender, says that its events are “community-led, socially-focused physical activity events delivered with the aim of improving public health”.