A leading voice for ladies Gaelic football says that there is “massive opposition from all over the country” for the stance taken by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association (LGFA) to include transgender players in ladies’ and girls’ teams, but that “people are afraid to speak up in case they and their families and their clubs are targeted”.
Comments by Danielle Loughrey, PRO of the women’s Tyrone Gaelic Football team, have particular relevance as a leaked briefing show that the LGFA are instructing their members not to voice an opinion on the association’s current policy allowing transgender players to play ladies football.
The LGFA’s decision to include transgender players in ladies football – including girls aged 12-15 – has proved hugely controversial, particularly in light of the decision of other international bodies such as World Rugby and FINA not to allow male-born or biological male athletes compete with women.
The association’s briefing document, which was leaked to the Irish Sun, tells members who are dealing with the media to give one of two responses if asked about the LGFA’s transgender policy:
OPTION 1 — I’m aware of the new policy but I do not know enough about it to make any comment.
OPTION 2 — I’m aware of the new policy but it’s complex. I would need more time to consider it before offering an opinion.
The Independent described the document as telling the player to “avoid giving opinions.”
Ms Loughrey said that the LGFA is now “dictating how players are to respond to questions in the media.”
“Basically, don’t have your own option; this is what you need to say! How about the LGFA actually answers our questions and opens up a proper dialogue with players, clubs & counties?” she asked.
She told Gript that there was “massive opposition” to the transgender policy across the country but that club members and players and volunteers had not been consulted and were afraid to speak out.
“People are afraid, they don’t want to be called a bigot – and they are afraid of going against the County Board,” she said. “They are nervous that there maybe repercussions for the club, that they might lose positions as coaches, will they be looked unfavourably upon.”
“They are nervous about speaking out, but there is massive opposition to this policy,” she said.
“Why are the LGFA not in line with World Rugby and FINA?” she asked. “People just can’t understand it and it will definitely be a factor in the difficulties we already face keeping girls in sport.”
Ms Loughrey pointed out that World Rugby cited 49 scientific articles to support their policy which does not permit transgender players to compete in female competitions.
Last year, the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) also banned male-born players from participating in contact rugby with women, citing peer-reviewed research that it said showed physical advantages for those born male.
“There are so many issues for girls: sharing a changing room with players and the unfairness of the decision. When a male goes through puberty, they are faster and stronger. That is very unfair to the girls – and we weren’t consulted about this,” Danielle Loughery said.
She said that the LGFA had made a decision but was now refusing to give details of what consultation or medical advice it had relied on before introducing the transgender policy.
“They say they consulted ‘legal and medical’ people, but who are they, and, as far as we know, they consulted no players, no clubs and no coaches.”
She also said that the LGFA had “made the decision and now its back to us on a local level to deal with it, they’ve dumped the onus on us.”
“What will the reaction of referees and other players be – especially for referees, one of their responsibilities to keep players safe,” she added.
Ms Loughrey wants LGFA clubs to be allowed to express their opinions at county board meetings and put forward any questions they may have about the new LGFA transgender policy.
She says that “queries are just being stonewalled” – and that the LGFA is now issuing a standard response where they “keep saying questions have been answered, even though they haven’t. There is no engagement, concerns are not even acknowledged.”
She said that most players felt that they had not been consulted and that people had “no idea” who is on the LGFA’s Transgender Application Committee.
The issue of transgender players came to public attention after a male-born footballer, Giulia Valentino, playing with Na Gaeil Aeracha, a LGBT club, was part of the team who beat Na Fianna’s ladies E team in the Dublin Junior J Shield football final.
It was reported that the referee, stopped the game after the first break in play to tell Na Gaeil Aeracha that there was “a problem with your number 21” and told them “the player is a man”.
Na Gaeil Aeracha’s captain said that Valentino was a trans woman but the referee said “this is the Ladies’ Gaelic football association”.
Clown Island, by me:https://t.co/51PQHme5ua
— John McGuirk (@john_mcguirk) August 7, 2022
The controversy was a catalyst for shaping a policy but now female footballers, trainers, and commentators say that the policy is unfair, unsafe, and out of kilter with the opinion in clubs.
Former Inish Times sports editor said the LGFA has gone astray. “This outrageous attempt to censor comment, silence free speech and control the very thoughts and words of its members is egregiously misogynistic. This has gone way beyond poor governance,” she wrote.
@LadiesFootball you have lost the run of yourselves. This outrageous attempt to censor comment, silence free speech and control the very thoughts and words of its members is egregiously misogynistic. This has gone way beyond poor governance. https://t.co/LRWqQxAxsG
— Mary-Anne McNulty (@Mary_A_McNulty) April 8, 2023
Others argued that the policy was unsafe.
I really cannot fathom what @LadiesFootball are at. Firstly, they place those they've a duty of care to at vast risk of serious injury. And then they try and tell those they are risking under their governance not to complain about it. It's beyond outrageous. It's dangerous.
— Ewan MacKenna (@EwanMacKenna) April 8, 2023
Kildare goalkeeper Mary Hulgraine tweeted: “Really? I’m all for equality and inclusion. But in a high intensity sport where there 100pc is physical contact… this is just dangerous. Genetically this is wrong. It goes against why female sports was created in the first place.”
Really ? I'm all for equality and inclusion. But in a high intensity sport where there 100% IS physical contact….this is just dangerous. Genetically this is wrong. It goes against why female sports was created in the first place ? 🤷♀️ https://t.co/CHfGvGSEzI
— Mary Hulgraine (@MaryHulgraine) February 20, 2023
Na Gaeil Aeracha welcomed the new policy and Valentino has been accepted by the LGFA as a member of the ladies team, telling the Business Post: “It’s a difficult path but together, as shown, we can go far. I want to thank the LGFA for making inclusion one of their core values.”
But Danielle Loughrey says that women cannot be put at a disadvantage in sport – and that new categories should come into effect.
“Yes, everyone should be allowed to live their lives they way they want to; straight, gay, male, female, trans…we all have basic human rights. But when the inclusion of transwomen in the female sports categories puts girls and women at a disadvantage then why can’t women speak up for themselves and their children?” she says.
“It may be a small cohort of trans people in Ireland wanting to play sports, but when the advantages of male puberty are scientifically proven, why allow it? Why not offer a trans category for these athletes?”.