TL;DR: This week the German Football association bucked the trend of sweeping and sudden decisions banning trans women from sports, by allowing trans athletes to compete in all football leagues. The science behind trans people in sport may still be evolving but at least we can all agree, everyone deserves to enjoy the wellbeing and community that sports brings.
When we talk about trans sports bans, we need to pose a crucial question: is it about fairness, or about policing bodies and transphobia?
In case you missed it, FINA, the world governing body for swimming, became the latest to issue a blanket ban for transgender women. It’s the third sports ban (after rugby and cycling) directed at trans women in the past year.
FINA’s new rules require trans women athletes to have transitioned by the age of 12.
No matter where you are in the world, because of the difficulties of transitioning, legalities around getting trans healthcare and limited access to puberty blockers, this effectively rules out trans women from being able to compete in sports that match their gender identity.
As a trans/non-binary person myself, I know the effect these bans will have on trans kids. Knowing that you are not welcome in certain spaces can make you take a step back from playing sports altogether.
I cannot remember the last time I stepped foot in a swimming pool or gym for fear of judgement or alienation.
I work out on my own, from home mostly, when I can have easy access to a shower or toilet break, and be able to change without feeling everyone’s eyes on me.
Think how a young kid must feel. As a parent, the last thing I would want for my kid would be to feel like they don’t belong or are not wanted.
Transgender athletes are not a new phenomenon. They have existed for years, undergoing intensive testing and following requirements on hormone levels, rules that only apply to trans women, not all women.
That’s why, as Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison stated, this “sudden” FINA ban is a “discriminatory decision” and “is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with the longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years with no issues.”
These bans across sports are happening now thanks to transphobic, divisive media pressure.
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Sports organisations should be focused on uniting athletes through practices which benefit everyone - just like in Germany, where their football association found a way to make sports fair for all.
The Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) recently announced that transgender, intersex and non-binary players will be able to decide if they want to play in women’s or men’s teams.
‘“Experience has shown that this does not jeopardise the integrity of the competition,” the DFB told The Guardian. “After all, all people have different physical strengths and abilities that only lead to success together in a team, regardless of gender.”
Trans women deserve to play and belong in sports - as we all do. Sports organisations should be working with trans people, who deserve - as Stonewall says - "to benefit from the sense of wellbeing and community that sports brings".
We can make positive strides in trans inclusion in sports by recognising that all bodies are different, regardless of being trans or cis. It's because we have different bodies and abilities that we like to compete.
Sports organisations should follow Deutscher Fußball-Bund’s lead: celebrate our differences so we can all enjoy the benefits of great sport.
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