Are we finally game to save women’s sport?

Are we finally game to save women’s sport?

There’s a change in the air.

Last week, transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ “wins” and “records” at the Ivy League Women’s Championships were met with anger and frustration. One feels for Thomas – a biological male – who had simply followed the absurd rules as set, but after dominating female competitors and catapulting from #462 in men’s swimming to #1 in the female ranks, the gross injustice was impossible to ignore.

Except this time, it wasn’t just the usual suspects defending women’s sport. It is clear that countless commentators and ordinary people have had their sense of fairness and reason abrasively jarred. As author and detransitioner Walt Heyer writes, “Thomas’s performance illustrates the effects and absurdity of denying differences between the sexes, especially men’s obvious bodily advantages in sports.”

Then this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly threw his support behind Senator Claire Chandler’s Save Women’s Sport Bill. Introduced earlier this month, the bill recognises the safety and fairness issues inherent in allowing transwomen (biological males) to compete against women and will clarify that women and girls have a right to single-sex sport in Australia.

Ideologically-driven media outlets – forsaking any semblance of journalistic integrity – have opposed the bill with full force, predictably trying to paint it as “transphobic”. The Prime Minister has been constantly berated for not doing enough to protect women’s safety and rights, and having now taken a stand to do just that, his position has farcically been twisted and attacked.

Headlines such as “Morrison backs bill excluding female trans athletes from women’s sport” and “Scott Morrison backs bill excluding transgender people from single-sex sport”, attempt to stir resentment and division, while distorting the true purpose of the bill:  “to promote women’s participation in sport, including by supporting the provision of single-sex sport for women and girls”.

Never mind that Senator Chandler has explicitly stated time and again that her bill will not exclude anyone from playing sport. Sporting groups may continue to offer mixed-sex sport or open categories, but the bill will ensure that if they do choose to provide single-sex sport for women, they are protected from the perverse threat of legal action that they currently face. The current vague legal exemption for female-only sport being trumpeted by those opposed to Chandler’s bill is useless when sporting organisations are too afraid to use it.

It should also be noted that sport always “excludes” at some level, whether in relation to weight, age, skill and so on. Preventing males from competing in single-sex female sports is not exclusion from sport. It is, as one feminist commentator points out, “exclusion from female sporting categories and competitions, which is perfectly normal, acceptable and imperative.”

Of course, by now women are used to the distortion of language at their expense for the trans cause. The word “woman” is increasingly being erased in favour of “gender inclusive” terms like “pregnant person”, “uterus owner”, “menstruator”, “people who bleed” and “bodies with vaginas”. And women drawing attention to the fact that they are indeed women (and love being women!) attracts accusations of transphobia, as Brit award winner Adele recently found out.

One particularly hostile interview with Chandler on ABC, where the male host patronised and spoke over her, has since been used to spin the narrative that there is no appetite for her bill because the Senator “could not name one” individual or sporting organisation that is calling for change. But with the abuse, shame and vilification directed at those who speak out on this issue, it is hardly surprising that the Senator declined to name names or that sporting organisations have not felt comfortable to openly call for change.

Consider the comments by Equality Australia, which said that the bill is “not just unnecessary, it’s cruel and divisive”; by Greens Senator Janet Rice who called it “disgusting” and “transphobic”; or by Equality Tasmania which said the bill would strip transgender people’s “right to live as we are, casting us into an unequal, uncertain and unsafe status in the eyes of the law”.

As usual, in amongst the emotional hyperbole, no concern is given to women and girls, who are the ones currently unequal and unsafe under the law; who are made to risk their safety in contact sports and to give up places, awards, sponsorships and career opportunities to trans-identifying males; and who are routinely denigrated and silenced if they dare speak out. Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Fitzsimons fails to see the irony in talking about “inspiring female sporting pioneers” in one breath, then opposing the very sporting parameters that have made their success possible in the next.

Again, the bill will not ban trans people from playing sport, but will simply restore a level playing field for women and girls. If anything, it is the status quo that is harming trans people – the indignation felt as biological males continue to thrash women in the sporting arena will only grow.

Despite the rhetoric and spin, the public response has overwhelmingly been one of enthusiastic support. After watching Thomas compete, any reasonable person can see that single-sex women’s sport is indeed necessary and the only thing that is cruel is letting males obliterate women in their own competitions.

After asking the question on their Facebook page, “should transgender people be allowed to compete in women’s sport?”, received over 6,500 responses, with nearly 85% saying “no” and only 13% responding “yes”. This is all in spite of their biased headline which read: “The PM has supported a push to exclude transgender people from women’s sport in Australia”.

Thanks to Lia Thomas, it has become abundantly clear that it is not gender identities, but bodies that matter in sport. Australians are calling for this common sense reality to be affirmed in law.

By Rachael Wong, CEO of Women's Forum Australia

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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