Katherine Deves says sports ban should cover trans girls too

‘Save Women’s Sport’ campaigner Katherine Deves has welcomed the decision from swimming’s global governing body to limit transgender women from participating in the sport at the elite level, but says the ban should also include transgender girls.

Yesterday it was revealed that FINA members voted to change their policies for trans athletes and aims to create a working group to establish an ‘open’ event for some categories as part of its new policy, after an extraordinary general meeting of the organisation was held alongside the world championships which are taking place in Bucharest.

Under the new rules that came into effect immediately, transgender women cannot participate in swimming at the elite level, but the sport will create a new ‘open’ category that people can complete in.

The new rules came with one caveat, noting that transgender women who did not experience male puberty, those transitioning before the age of 12, or before reaching Tanner Stage Two, would be allowed to compete in the women’s category. The Tanner scale is a measure of medical scale of physical development.

FINA has been quick to clarify that they are not encouraging youth to transition before they reach the age of twelve, but they are allowing those who do to complete.

Speaking to The Kenny Report on Sky News Deves said the decision vindicated her previous campaigning but she believes the ban should include all transgender girls, regardless of their age.

“I would argue that it doesn’t go far enough.” Deves said. “They are saying that if boys before the age of twelve undergo what they call transitioning, or have their puberty arrested, they should be able to complete.

“I would disagree with that, because men and boys have the benefit of testosterone – and that begins in the womb. They have proved benefits that start at that time.”

Deves said the decision from FINA vindicated her past campaigning on the issue.

“This is absolutely vindication and a victory for women like myself, women around the world who have been advocating on this issue for quite some years.

Deves said women who have been fighting for sporting bodies to change their rules had faced “vile abuse” and “silencing” for speaking up about their concerns.

“To see FINA stand up and put women and girls first is an absolute win.” Deves said.

The campaigner, who ran as a unsuccessfully for the seat of Warringah is the federal election, said now that FINA had made their position clear, it was time for all sports to follow suit.

“I would like to see this policy adopted by other international federations, and indeed our national federation.” Deves said calling on Sport Australia to drop it’s inclusion policy that encourages transgender people to complete in sport.

Deves said the policy adopted by Sports Australia had been created without consultation with all stakeholders, arguing that a policy that limits transgender people from playing in single sex sport needs to cover not only elite competition, but should extend down to the level of community sports.

“It’s not protecting women and girls at a community level and that is where most sport in Australia is played. So I think our sports bureaucrats really need to have a long hard look at their policies, and look at what FINA has done, and undertake a consultation process.” Deves said.

Deves said she disagreed with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who has described the issue as one to be sorted out by sporting organisations, not politicians.

The former Liberal candidate said if sporting bodies did not change their rules, the government should bring in legislation to force them to limit the participation of transgender women.

Senator Claire Chandler says new rules need cover all sports, at every level.

Liberal senator Claire Chandler, who put forward a private members bill in the last parliament, also appeared on Sky News saying legislation was required, and laws were needed down to the community level.

“I’m incredibly excited to see this outcome from FINA.” Senator Chandler said. “I think…it does reflect quite poorly on all of the people; the bureaucrats, the commentators in the media, and some politicians, who have be saying for the last three years that this isn’t something that anyone is worried about, that this isn’t even an issue that women should be talking about.”

Senator Chandler said the policy implemented by FINA for elite sports, should also be adopted by Swimming Australia, and it should extend down to community based sports too.

“I look forward to seeing how Swimming Australia implements to policy that FINA has come up with, at the elite level of competition in Australia, right down to the community level.” Senator Chandler said.

Senator Chandler said the “fight is only just beginning”.

“Now the onus is on our other international peak sporting bodies, and indeed our national peak sporting bodies in Australia, to undertake a process like FINA has done, to listen to the concerns of female athletes, to not brush them away, to not say that they are bigoted – just because you say that women’s sport should be for females.

“All of these sports now need to be looking very closely with what is happening in their sports from the community level right up to the elite level.” Senator Chandler said.

LGBTIQA+ rights groups slam FINA decision

FINA’s decision to limit the participation of transgender women has been slammed by a wide range of LGBTIQA+ advocacy organisations.

CEO of Transgender Victoria, Mama Alto, says the decision sets a disappointing precedent for exclusion of transgender women.

“In terms of how FINA’s decision creates a precedent, whilst FINA has now made this decision for elite sports competitions, it is vital that community sports takes a different approach,” Alto said.

“This decision is made in the context of elite, professional, global competition – such as at Olympic level. For community sports, it’s about so much more than just competition: it’s about participation, inclusion, community-building, health and wellbeing. So it is essential that community sports do not follow this exclusive precedent (which is designed for elite level competition).”

National LGBTQIA advocacy group Equality Australia and ACON’s dedicated sports inclusion initiative Pride in Sport have also shared their concerns, saying the FINA policy effectively applies a blanket ban on women who are trans participating in elite swimming, also preventing some intersex women from competing against other women in elite competition.

It’s a concern that Intersex Australia have also voiced.

Intersex Human Rights Australia (IHRA) have called attention to regulations pertaining to ‘XY DSDs’, which categorises women with certain intersex traits as men.

The new policy would also only allow women with certain intersex characteristics to compete in the women’s category if “they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later”.

IHRA warn that these regulations serve to reinforce stigma and shame associated with intersex traits, and that the changes will have little immediate impact beyond compounding such stigma.

“These regulations only add to the harm experienced by people with intersex variations in Australia,” IHRA Executive Director and bioethicist Morgan Carpenter says.

“The women with XY traits primarily impacted by these regulations have not transitioned gender, they are not gender diverse, and they have often not had opportunities to participate in decision making about how they are medically treated. They were observed or assigned female at birth. They have been raised as women. Treating them as males strips them of their lifelong status and disregards their biological and social realities. Their status should not depend on the convenience of others.”

“The new FINA regulations require women in this situation to prove and certify practices that have violated their rights. Given the ongoing history of unnecessary medicalisation of children with intersex traits, these regulations reinforce and require harmful practices, or exclusion.” Carpenter said.

Graeme Watson
Leigh Andrew Hill

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