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The way we talk about trans athletes is a key part of making the world more accepting

For young trans people, this discussion has the potential to send a deeply alarming message that they have no place in sport, whether that’s joining their friends on the school field at lunch or dreaming about competing in Los Angeles for the 2028 Olympics

Kirsty Clarke
Wednesday 06 March 2019 14:49 GMT
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Sport is one of society’s most powerful tools for bringing people together and it should be open to everyone, including trans people. However, in recent days, sport has become a divisive issue around trans people’s right to participate. Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen female athletes speaking out against trans women competing in sport, contributing to an environment of misinformation. The confusion and conflation of different issues reduces a complex topic to a dismissive debate on social media.

The reality is we know many trans people still feel unwelcome, or even actively excluded from playing sports. Much of the conversation we’re seeing today in the media and online is unlikely to help change this attitude. The conversation is currently being dominated by an overwhelming amount of bullying, minimising people to their physical bodies and using outdated stereotypes and abusive language.

For young trans people, this discussion has the potential to send a deeply alarming message that they have no place in sport, whether that’s joining their friends on the school field at lunch or dreaming about competing in Los Angeles for the 2028 Olympics or Paralympics. Sport is great for health and wellbeing, and no child should feel like they have to miss out on this.

How we talk about trans people in sport is a crucial part of making the world a more accepting place. We must increase our understanding and acceptance so that more trans people, of all ages, are free to be themselves and live healthy, happy lives. We also need to hear more from trans people, who are not being included in these discussions.

What we need right now is to have a more mature conversation that brings in experts and trans people in a way that gives them space to be heard. No two sports are the same. Each have their own set of rules, regulations and systems for guiding people’s participation at all levels. The complexities are around individual sports themselves, not about trans people. What’s crucial is that we are doing everything we can to make sure trans people feel included and able to compete, in any sport and at any level.

The sport sector and, in particular, the national governing bodies have worked incredibly hard to develop policies, advice and guidance to ensure their sports are as inclusive as possible. These groups have already taken into consideration concerns about “advantages” to ensure everyone can fairly take part in sport. Stonewall will continue to proudly work alongside these bodies to make sure sports at all levels are open to anyone and everyone who wishes to participate.

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Creating a more inclusive environment within sport at all levels is something that benefits everyone. To help make sport everyone’s game, we need to change the conversation and have more individuals, clubs and organisations to stand up and be vocal supporters of including trans athletes at every level of sport.

Kirsty Clarke is director of sport at Stonewall

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