After an 18 month consultation and review of the available evidence all five of the UK’s Sports Councils have agreed on the publication of new guidelines on the inclusion of transgender competitors in sports. The new guidelines say that, for many sports, the inclusion of transgender competitors in female sports cannot “co-exist” with the principles of “fairness and safety.”
This, the report says, is due to “retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person recorded male at birth.” Testosterone suppression, in which a transgender man reduces their testosterone to below male levels, “is unlikely to guarantee fairness between transgender women and natal females” as “transgender women are on average likely to retain physical advantage in terms of physique, stamina, and strength.” These retained physical advantages “will also impact safety parameters in sports which are combat, collision or contact in nature.”
This situation means that “competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category in gender-affected sports.” The report draws a distinction between sports in which male physiology would give a competitor an advantage, gender-affected sports, and those in which it would make little to no difference to a competitor. Those sports which are not ‘gender-affected’, the reports says, may find it appropriate to include transgender women with women.
The report recommends three different ways of dealing with the inclusion of transgender individuals within any particular sport. The options presented are: allowing transgender women to compete as women, but instituting testosterone testing with strict limits; dividing the sport into a female category, in which only biological women could take part, and an open category, in which any competitor could take part; and adopting “universal admission,” in which there are no distinctions between male and female competitors and everyone competes against each other.
Dr Nicola Williams, director of the feminist group Fair Play for Women, said that she commended the Sports Councils for taking to lead on what was a “difficult and sensitive issue.” Williams said it was “good to see” the Sports Councils recognise that “reserving a sport category for biological females is both lawful and necessary to guarantee the fair and safe inclusion of women in sport.”
The report, according to Williams, “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.” She added, however, that she was “disappointed” that the option for transgender competitors to play in the sex category of their choice had not been clearly ruled out, “despite clear evidence that this is unfair and, in some sports, unsafe for women.”