The Sports Councils commissioned an extensive study into the issue of trans inclusion in sport which they published in September 2021. Women in Sport has responded to this here. This high-quality report included a comprehensive review of the scientific literature by an expert medical scientist. It concluded that the inclusion of trans women in female categories of most sports (equestrian being one exception) would be unfair and in some sports would compromise the safety of other participants. The Sports Councils deferred any decisions about trans inclusion to individual sports, although they have been providing ongoing support.
Women in Sport has been working with National Governing Bodies to support them and we are sharing our view below about the approach we believe they should be taking. We hope that anyone implementing the guidance puts science at the heart of decisions, recognises there is a genuine conflict between safety and fairness and trans inclusion in most women’s sports; and listens to the voices of the people actually affected – namely natal and trans women.
1. Ensure your Board is taking the lead
We believe it is important that your Board is close to this decision given its importance and complexity and that work on the topic is not delegated below Director level. We would suggest including the following when briefing your Board:
a. The International Research Literature Review: SCEG Project for Review and Redraft of Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport 2020 – ideally with a direct presentation from Carbmill Consulting who led the Review.
b. The history of natal and trans women’s involvement in or exclusion from your sport
c. The current issues natal women and trans women face in your sport
d. The context of the current wider (and often polarised) societal debates about trans inclusion and women’s sex-based rights including those related to the Equality Act and, where relevant, the differences emerging in the four nations of the UK
e. The necessity to avoid being led by reputation – rather to focus on what is right and wrong, and only to consider reputation management once the conclusion has been reached.
2. Back the science
We think it is important that your Board makes a clear decision as to how your sport will manage any challenges to the validity of the Sports Councils’ report. Upon much consideration, our view is that the science quoted in this report is extensive, peer-reviewed and the best evidence we have at this time. Arguments about validity of the science are a distraction and can undermine efforts to find solutions.
3. Define key words and values
To avoid any confusion, be clear about definitions of words and the values underlying your thinking, from the outset for example:
a. Define how you are using the word “inclusion”, noting that the Sports Councils’ report defined this as meaning “trans inclusion”
b. Be clear about the definitions you are going to use regarding key words such as “sex” and “gender”
c. Clarify the value that participants of your sport put on safety [where relevant] and integrity of competition at all levels from grassroots to elite.
4. Think about your staff
a. Involve those with lived experience in the decisions: we think it is really important that groups involving a majority of women are visibly involved in making, or at least advising on, the final decisions. This guidance does not flag up safety or fairness concerns for men.
b. Include women’s leads in your sport as well as diversity and inclusion leads: in view of the Sports Councils’ conclusion that “for many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model”; we are of the opinion that this process should involve those with lead responsibility for the women side of your sport as well as the those with the lead for diversity and inclusion. This should apply to both non-executives and executives.
c. Prepare your wider staff: it is important that (particularly external-facing) staff are also briefed on the science, the issues above, and feel they have had an opportunity to feed into the process and express any views and concerns they may have on an individual basis. This will help to minimise divisions within your organisation and maximise a coherent external interface.
5. Document the process you follow
To prevent future challenges to your decision, we believe it is important to invest in the quality of the process you use from the start with a view to the outcome being robust and enduring, by being well thought-through, well-documented and decisions well-justified.
6. Consult with care
Many have very strong and entrenched views on this topic and we believe that if you are embarking on a consultation you should consider the following issues:
a. Aim to consult over some options for constructive solutions based on the Sports Councils Equality Group guidance conclusions.
b. In considering responses base this on the quality of argument rather than the number of voices or the loudness of the voice.
c. Focus your consultation on women in your sport and trans women in your sport. Ensure you are aware of which sex and gender is speaking if you have anonymous views submitted because lived experience does matter. In particular:
i. Recognise that lifelong gender stereotyping and expectations means that natal women may be unwilling to say things that lead to others feeling hurt, even if this is to their own detriment. If you want to hear what the natal women and trans women in your sport truly feel about the options presented, you will need to consider how best to collect opinions and put in place a trusted listener
ii. Given the polarised wider societal debate around trans inclusion and women’s sex-based rights, and the misogynistic abuse that has been levelled at women with opinions, many will be fearful to express their true opinion
iii. If you want to hear what the natal women and trans women in your sport truly feel about the options presented, you will need to consider how best to collect opinions and put in place a trusted listener
d. Do not depend in either case on translation of views by a third party – ensure you have access to hearing peoples’ views in full and unedited, even if unattributed. This safeguards against bias in reporting.