Swimming body’s transgender ruling leaves me greatly saddened

Following last night’s decision by international swimming body FINA to ban transgender women from participating in women’s elite competition, I woke this morning to a phone jammed with interview requests. Given my history as one of the first out transgender women in Australian sport, this is a scenario which emerges every time transgender women make the news in sport.

This decision cuts to bigger questions than sport. It beckons us to ask what kind of world we want to live in and what kind of world we want our children to grow up in.

Do we want a world which is open, inclusive and celebrates us as individuals as much as collectively, or do we want to lead diminished lives where our vision of ourselves is one of sepia uniformity?

FINA’s policy is not an “inclusion policy”. It’s an exclusion policy. It’s a policy that fails to take into account the diversity among transgender women, women as a whole and the nuance of sex, gender, sport and society. It is lazy on ethics and science.

FINA’s decision fails the leadership test and instead buckles to a noisy element which wishes to preserve a world that no longer exists. Talk of a third category for trans women similarly fails, because it seeks to move trans women out of the women’s category, which is an affront to our fundamental identity. The starting place should be inclusion, not categories crafted to exclude.

Sport is a central pillar of our culture. As such, sport should and must reflect our cultural values, but it must also be front and centre in guiding our culture. Surely, the culture and the world to which we all aspire is one that celebrates our diversity and comes together in all our wonderful manifestations of being.

Governing body FINA announced it would set up an “open category” to allow transgender athletes to compete in a separate class at the elite level.Credit:Getty Images

This is the spirit in which we come together when celebrating each Olympic Games as much as when we meet at the local footy field to kick a ball around on a Saturday morning. These are the values and aspirations which I would hope a modern, forward-looking global sporting body would project and one which I am honoured to join others in working towards.

Thirty years ago when I was outed in my sport, I met with Athletics NSW officials who told me, “Athletics is a sport for everyone and there is a place for you in this sport.” Athletics Australia arranged with the Australian Institute of Sport to conduct a series of tests on me across 18 months. They applied the findings of those tests to a range of athletic physical norms for women.

It was found that I satisfied those norms and was free to continue running in Australian domestic competition. I was told that if I had failed those tests I would have still been permitted to compete with other women, but not for medals or places in teams. My identity was never questioned, just my physiology.

Can I also say that at this time I discovered an Australia which was open, welcoming and brave enough to accept a broader vision of our humanity, culture and society. I was widely supported. I put at least some of this down to the leadership demonstrated by Athletics Australia.

Surely 30 years later global sporting bodies, with all the money, science and expertise which they command, can come up with a similar approach or something more thoughtful and respectful than an outright blanket ban.

Sport is never fair. Elite sport measures disadvantage and advantage, it seeks out and highlights those very things that we might ordinarily consider unfair. We want to see and celebrate the person with the blend of physiology, opportunity and mindset that will earn a spot on the winner’s podium.

So we don’t want “fair”, we never did. What we want is meaningful competition. A meaningful comparison of two or more people in a physical, skills-based or mental contest. Transgender participation in sport does not necessarily break this principle. Sport can achieve transgender inclusion at the elite level using testing based on norms, as it was for me. I would support this approach.

I am greatly saddened by FINA’s ruling, because this failure in leadership will be seen by many as a signal that their misapprehensions about transgender women, our place in sport and our place in society are true. Once again, our lives are up for question, debate, and denial.

FINA’s decision gives a nod to a world where transgender people are exposed to social, institutional and political harm, that world of sepia uniformity where our smaller view of others is a reflection of our diminished vision of ourselves.

Most Viewed in Sport

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article