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In recent weeks, various international sporting bodies have announced policies effectively banning trans women from competing in international elite competition, and we hear that more may be poised to follow suit. 

We think a blanket exclusion is unfair, unfounded and discriminatory, and we’re calling on the UK’s four sporting bodies to oppose trans-exclusionary approaches, and support sporting bodies to start from a point of inclusion. 

If you agree with us, add your name to our open letter

Dear Sport England, Sport Scotland, Sport Wales and Sport NI, 

In recent weeks, various international sporting bodies such as Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), FINA (International Swimming Federation) and IRL (International Rugby League), have announced policies which effectively ban trans women from competing in international elite competitions, requiring trans girls to consider medical intervention before puberty should they aim to compete at an elite level when they’re older. We hear that more may be poised to follow suit. Not only does a blanket exclusion contradict the IOC (International Olympic Committee) 2021 framework, which states any criteria must be founded in international human rights, robust evidence and consultation, but it is also morally abhorrent. We ask you to urge UK sporting bodies to oppose trans-exclusive approaches, and start from a point of inclusion.

These decisions at elite level have a direct impact on the trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people Mermaids supports – in the playground and in their local clubs. We’ve heard this week from distressed kids, parents and coaches worried about what these rulings mean for them. Just this week, one nine-year-old trans boy has been refused permission to join his local boy’s swimming club. These policies send a message to trans kids that they don’t deserve the same opportunities as their friends, and to all kids that they have to present a certain way to be respected for who they are in a sporting environment. This impacts everyone. 

Trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people should not be forced to choose between who they are and playing the sport they love. Sport teaches young people important life lessons about teamwork, navigating new environments, building confidence and friendships, and has numerous physical and emotional benefits that make us who we are. To exclude trans and gender diverse young people from such experiences is to actively and knowingly deny them a happy and healthy childhood.

As the four national sporting public bodies, you have a role to support sporting bodies – from National Governing Bodies to grassroots clubs – in building inclusive participation with a diversity of athletes. What you say matters. We therefore urge you to advise and support the UK’s sporting bodies to pursue trans-inclusive approaches to sport, and to set inclusion – not exclusion – as the standard we can all expect from engaging in sport.

Yours sincerely,

The undersigned

To get involved with our Active About Inclusion work, visit mermaidsuk.org.uk/sports-inclusion.

We are incredibly disappointed that swimming has become the third international sport to decide to exclude trans people from elite competition, a decision that is already being felt at a grassroots level.

Mermaids’ Verity Smith (He/Him) looks at what’s going on, and how it impacts the people we support.

What’s happening?

On Sunday 19 June, the International Swimming Federation (FINA), swimming’s world governing body, effectively banned trans women from competing in elite women’s races. 

This new guidance says that trans women can only compete if they can prove they have “not experienced male puberty” before the age of 12 (Pink News). In practice, this will exclude nearly all trans women and girls from the sport.

That’s because accessing puberty blockers before the age 12 is not only near-impossible in the UK (with GIDS waiting times at over two and a half years for a first appointment), but requiring young people to take them in order to compete in adulthood puts undue, unethical pressure on children who should be given time to explore their gender without expectation.  

The guidance has been described as outrageous, unscientific and discriminatory by many, including pro athlete Chris Mosier, and will have implications far beyond the sport of swimming.

How does this impact children and young people?

While this guidance applies to elite sport, we have already heard about the ripple effect of FINA’s decision on children and young people as young as 9 who have been told they can’t enjoy the sport they love, and research by Dr Abby Barras illustrates how discrimination and hostility against trans athletes at elite level trickles down to the playground. 

We believe that all kids should be able to play with their peers and dream about winning a medal at the Olympics, regardless of gender. 

Instead, we’re hearing heartbreaking stories from children and young people who are worried that they can’t safely visit their local pool, or swim in the team of their gender. 

Like the child who told us they wanted to join a swim team to have fun and make friends. Unable to access puberty blockers, they’ve been told they’re not allowed. 

Or another young person, who shared with us their deep distress that “the people I look up to hate me”.

These kids have been let down by the athletes they idolise and feel they no longer have a future in the sport they love. 

Telling trans children and young people that they can’t be themselves and swim, cycle or play has a devastating impact on mental wellbeing and happiness, and will also impact cis female athletes who don’t fit into a narrow view of what it is to be a woman.

FINA says this is about fairness, but in reality it’s anything but. This ruling sends a cruel message to trans, non-binary and gender diverse children and young people who just want to swim with their friends, telling them that there is something wrong with them, and they don’t belong.

We think that’s wrong, and will continue to work with governing bodies across the UK to make all sports trans-inclusive, so that every young person has that chance to dream.

What can you do?

  1. Make a donation to support our #ActiveAboutInclusion work, which includes inclusion training for local clubs, reviewing club policies and more.
  2. Share this article on social media with the hashtags #LetKidsSwim and #ActiveAboutInclusion.
  3. Tell your friends to do the same!

Mermaids broadly welcomes the new framework on inclusion for transgender athletes from the International Olympic Committee, published on Tuesday 16 November 2021.

This framework stresses that no athlete should be excluded from competition on the assumption of an advantage due to their gender. The new guidance follows a two-year consultation process with more than 250 athletes and concerned stakeholders.

The new framework focuses on 10 principles: inclusion, prevention of harm, non-discrimination, fairness, no presumption of advantage, evidence-based approach, primacy of health and bodily autonomy, stakeholder-centred approach, right to privacy and periodic reviews.

This framework stresses that no athlete should be excluded from competition on the assumption of an advantage due to their gender”

International federations developing their eligibility criteria are instructed to consider all 10 of the principles holistically, rather than picking and choosing some over others, although the framework is not legally binding.

Canadian footballer Quinn, who became the world first openly transgender Olympic gold medallist at the 2020 Olympics said in a statement: “This new IOC framework is ground-breaking in the way that it reflects what we know to be true – that athletes like me and my peers participate in sports without any inherent advantage, and that our humanity deserves to be respected.”

Mermaids fully supports all gender diverse children and young people to play the sport they love now and in the future. Read more about our Active About Inclusion campaign here.