Equality Australia warn sporting bodies against blanket transgender bans

Human rights advocates have warned International Rugby League and other sport governing bodies considering blanket bans on trans women following recent changes from swimming’s peak body FINA.

The warning comes as the International Rugby League have shown signs of following FINA’s lead, enforcing a temporary ban on trans women as they review their inclusion policy.

“In reaching this position, the IRL, which last reviewed transgender participation in international rugby league in January-February 2021, considered several relevant developments in world sport,” the IRL said in a statement this week.

“Not the least of these was the IOC’s publication of its November 2021 Framework on Fairness, Non-Discrimination and Inclusion on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations.”

“The IOC concluded that it is the remit of each sport and its governing body to determine how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage compared with their peers – taking into consideration the differing nature of each sport.”

“In the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein, the IRL believes there is a requirement and responsibility to further consult and complete additional research before finalising its policy.”

In the statement, the IRL also say the code “reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport.”

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia says sweeping bans on trans folks do not meet international human rights standards.

“Blanket bans on women who are trans playing against other women risk violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified,” Brown said.

“FINA failed to meet that standard, and the Rugby League’s ban also fails to do so, despite it being temporary.”

Equality Australia characterised the ban as pre-emptive and urged the International Rugby League to ensure transparency of evidence and to prioritise consultation in the development of its policy.

“International Rugby League and other sporting bodies must consult with affected people and provide a detailed explanation of the evidence they are relying upon before they exclude players from the sports they love,” Brown continues.

“Given the small number of trans athletes, the international principle of proportionately justifies taking a case-by-case approach – rather than imposing a blunt and harmful ban on everyone, no matter their differences.”

“As sporting bodies consider their positions, they must put the human rights of all athletes front and centre, paying special consideration to the rights of trans people to be able to compete fairly at an elite level with others of their gender to the maximum extent possible.”

“The fact is that women’s bodies – like all human bodies – are diverse. For powerful international sporting bodies such as FINA or International Rugby League to determine that only a particular type of woman can compete against other women sets a dangerous precedent, increasing discrimination against trans women.”

The organisation this week issued a joint statement with LGBTIQ+ sporting inclusion group Pride in Sport, calling on FINA to place its policy under immediate review, raising concerns it will increase discrimination against trans and intersex people and potentially expose intersex children to the further risk of so-called ‘sex normalisation’ procedures without their consent.

FINA’s policy forces all elite athletes to undergo a compulsory assessment to determine their chromosomal sex as a precondition for their participation in elite swimming, further potentially breaching human rights to privacy and prohibitions on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“All women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, whether they’re trans or not, and regardless of their innate sex characteristics,” Brown added.

“FINA’s ban will have impacts on the human rights of all athletes, but it will pose specific and serious risks of harm to intersex women and effectively exclude most trans women from competing at an elite level in a sport they love. It is completely unacceptable, particularly when there are no known trans women currently competing in elite swimming.”

Leigh Andrew Hill


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