By Rachael Wong
Eight peak Australian sporting bodies have released guidelines for the inclusion of transgender athletes. They are AFL, Hockey Australia, Netball Australia, Rugby Australia, Tennis Australia, Touch Football Australia, UniSport Australia and Water Polo Australia.
This follows on from Cricket Australia, which released its guidelines last year, and another 13 sporting bodies have committed to doing the same.
According to the various sporting bodies, the purpose of the guidelines is to promote a more “inclusive”, “safe” and “welcoming” environment in sport. However, the rights and safety of women and girls appear to have been completely sidelined in the drafting process.
As former Olympian and Commonwealth Games Gold medallist Jane Flemming says:
"…for the human species that has been born biologically male, if they go through puberty, in particular, they absolutely have some physiological advantages, whether it's bone strength, or extra capillarisation, or larger muscle bulk…Not only does that affect performance, but…there is a health or a danger aspect [for women and girls]."
The transgender participation guidelines developed by World Rugby earlier in the year found that it is neither safe nor fair for biologically male transgender players to play in women’s rugby. The guidelines, referencing 45 scientific reports and developed in consultation with developmental biologists, medical experts and sport scientists, showed that a male player tackling a female creates “a minimum of 20 to 30 per cent greater risk for those female players”.
As Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler wrote in an op-ed for The Australian today, Rugby Australia’s trans inclusion guidelines contain no mention of the scientific reports or the findings of significantly increased head and neck injury risk to female players (the senator was recently the subject of an anti-discrimination complaint for speaking out on the issue).
The senator notes that like similar guidelines, they were developed in secret without proper consultation with female sporting participants. She writes:
“To the majority of Australians, pages of scientific analysis and legal interpretation is not required to understand why biological males competing in women’s sport undermines the very purpose of women’s sport — to provide fair competition for female players and athletes. But it’s 2020 and we’re living in a world in which the CEO of Sport Australia tersely answers a question about what the organisation understands a woman to be: “Sport Australia has not defined the term woman.””
Perhaps it’s time Sport Australia did define the term “woman”, taking into account scientific research and biological realities, the safety of women and girls, and the ideal of fairness that is so fundamental to all sport. As Senator Chandler writes,
“Having made such strides in building women’s sport, the last thing we should do is undermine that progress to pursue more fashionable inclusivity agendas.”
Read Senator Chandler’s full opinion piece in The Australian here.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia