UK Athletics announced on 31 March that they will follow World Athletics in restricting the Female category to those born female. Today Swim England got close, adopting Female and Open for all licensed competitions in the UK. Female and Open is an approach suggested by the Sports Council Equality Group in its transgender inclusion guidance as a way to ensure there is a place for everyone, of any gender identity and none. Competing in Open means there is no need to declare either one’s sex or a gender identity. British Triathlon adopted this policy last summer.
Some intra-club and entry-level swimming events are unlicensed, and for these Swim England requires that people may self-identify as either sex. They say this means trans-identifying people can be recognised as the gender they claim to be. Swim England says that without this, some transgender people would have self-excluded from swimming. This suggests that being validated as women is more important to them than swimming, since they are free to swim in Open events without denying their identity.
Diving policy is different. Only the talent games, which drive selection, will be Female and Open. All the rest will be self-ID. It’s hard to see a rationale for this, other than the influence of high-profile male divers. Tough luck for female divers.
It is lawful to have single-sex sport. And it is also lawful not to. But it is not fair. By adopting Female and Open for all licensed events, Swim England has acknowledged this. It is anomalous that they have decided some swimming competitions are there to validate feelings rather than celebrate swimming achievements. Ironically, one possible consequence is that more clubs will licence their local events so that they can make them sex-based – because otherwise they must be based on gender identity. So Swim England may benefit financially as a result of this policy.
Where to draw the line?
The question we are hearing now from sport governing bodies is this: We know we need to reinstate female-only competition, but where should we draw the line? This is because they crossed the line years ago when they let some males into the female category. The question they’re now asking is, who should be eligible for our female category? Thankfully they are now asking women and women’s groups this question, instead of just trans campaign groups. This isn’t about trans inclusion it’s about eligibility for female sport. UK Athletics made it simple. If it’s called Female, it’s only for those with female bodies. Swim England has not yet put the line back where it belongs. So no perfect ten for them.