Trans advocates warn against trans-exclusionary swimming policy

Australian trans folks and LGBTIQ+ advocacy groups are calling on international swimming body FINA to place its new trans-exclusionary policy under review, urging Australian sporting bodies to proceed carefully as the new policy sets a harmful precedent, and warm of violations of human rights principles.

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.

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).”

“In terms of how FINA’s decision impacts elite professional competitions, FINA’s decision (to exclude transgender women if they have “experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later”) will actually create further structural inequalities. Access to puberty blockers at this age during a gender transition or affirmation journey is a difficult and inaccessible process, with inconsistencies around the world.”

Alto warns that the decision will create inequality, disadvantage and barriers to trans people based on that access – based on their financial, geographic and sociopolitical situation.

“And that’s a tragic outcome. Ultimately, this decision impacts the inclusion – and hence, safety, dignity and equality – of transgender people.”

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.

“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”, said Jackie Turner, Trans Equality Advocate at Equality Australia.

“The fact is that women’s bodies – like all human bodies – are diverse. For a powerful international sporting body such as FINA to determine that only a particular type of woman can compete against other women sets a dangerous precedent, increasing discrimination against trans and intersex people and exposing intersex children to the further risk of so-called ‘sex normalisation’ procedures without their consent.”

The policy also 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.

“This 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”, Turner continues.

“Human rights principles require such policies to start from a place of inclusion unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified. FINA have failed to meet that standard.”

“FINA should place the policy under review immediately, and urgently provide a detailed explanation of the evidence it relied upon and who was involved in making the determination that such discriminatory and intrusive measures are justified, and that the risks identified could not have been mitigated by anything less than a blanket ban.”

The groups called on decision makers and commentators in Australia – particularly the governing bodies of Australian sporting codes – to proceed with caution, prioritise inclusion, transparency and consultation in their responses.

Emma Staples, Acting National Program Manager at Pride in Sport, adds that sport should be for everyone.

“For years, sporting organisations across Australia have worked hard to include trans women, trans men and non-binary people, and to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and that everyone can participate safely and fairly.”

“This culture of inclusion is something that should be celebrated and protected, but FINA’s blanket ban sets a harmful precedent that threatens to impact sporting communities around the world.

“We look forward to continuing working with sporting bodies in Australia, and urge them to prioritise inclusion, only discriminating where there is clear risk to safety or fairness.”

Equality Australia and Pride in Sport also warned that such a precedent threatens the gains made in diversity and inclusion in the wider Australian community.

Jackie Turner adds that trans people just want to be treated with dignity and respect.

“In recent years, we’ve made significant progress toward ensuring trans people are accepted and celebrated, and to remove some of the barriers we face to participating fully in the community.

“FINA’s policy sets a dangerous precedent of discrimination, and its impacts will be felt widely as anti-equality lobbyists seek to use it to justify excluding trans people from other parts of public life.”

Long-time transgender advocate and former sportswoman, Martine Delaney, has also joined the chorus of voices speaking out against FINA’s decision, saying blanket bans are not the answer.

“I was part of the development of the AFL’s trans player policy and while it is not perfect, it does not rule out entire groups of people,” Delaney explains.

“Instead, more fairly, it deals with individuals on a case-by-case basis.”

“Dealing with individual athletes, rather than banning entire groups, ensures fairness and should be the policy groups like FINA adopt.”

Delaney warns that a blanket ban is an inherently discriminatory response.

“FINA claims its decision is based on science, yet I see no evidence it has taken into account the science showing how hormone replacement reduces athletic capacity in trans women.”

“For example, hormone replacement drastically reduces both muscle mass and the body’s capacity to remove lactic acid.”

“I urge FINA to revisit its decision.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

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