One year ago Fair Play For Women co-hosted a ground-breaking event with Woman’s Place UK. The aim was to raise awareness of the threat to female sport as a protected category, and the impact on women and girls, of simplistic trans inclusion policies that let some males into the female category in sport. A year ago, sports bodies didn’t want to hear it. A year on, many now recognise that their policies for trans inclusion need to be reviewed, and that females are critical stakeholders in those reviews.
This is a huge step forward. Fair Play For Women is now being included as part of policy reviews. Scientists are being consulted to inform policies, drawing on robust data and scientific fact so as to generate policies that will be fair to females.
The job is far from done. No policies have yet changed. While many UK, and some world, sports bodies acknowledge the problem, the IOC has not yet indicated a willingness to change. But the tide is turning. We will keep working until women and girls get their sport back.
Inspiring support for women’s sport
On 10 July 2019, 750 people gathered at the QEII conference centre opposite the Palace of Westminster in London for an evening of talks about the power and importance of sport for women and girls, and the threat it faces. The event was hosted by Woman’s Place UK in association with Fair Play For Women.
The event covered:
· Why we have female sport and how it changes lives
· The role of biological sex in eligibility and performance in sports
· A personal take on fairness for women in elite competition
· The current challenges to fairness and safety facing women in all levels of sport
After a welcome by Kiri Tunks of Woman’s Place UK, Dr Nicola Williams of Fair Play For Women set the scene for why this conference was needed. She highlighted how sport was still not fully inclusive for women and girls and that much more work was still needed.
To the delight of the audience she then opened the conference with a surprise video welcome message from paralympic champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
The first speaker was Victoria Hood, a cyclist and professional cycling team manager. Victoria competed as a cyclist on both road and track. She now runs an elite women’s cycling team, with a development pathway for youth and junior girls. In recent years, she’s been British national masters track champion in two disciplines. Victoria talked about past and present challenges for female racers, and the ongoing battle for women and girls in cycling. See Victoria’s talk here.
Next, Dr Emma Hilton, a developmental biologist and university lecturer, provided a review of the scientific evidence cited by the IOC in setting its transgender inclusion policies, here. While the credibility of that evidence may be questionable, Emma’s own credentials are impeccable. She has published more than twenty manuscripts on developmental biology and genetics and was named Outstanding Young Investigator by the European Society of Human Genetics, for her research. She spends her days picking through mammalian reproductive systems, and in her leisure time she is a marathon runner, weightlifter and netballer. A strong advocate for women and girls, Emma tweets as @FondofBeetles.
We then heard the experiences of two sports women from the US and Canada. First up was Dr Linda Blade, former champion in track and field and now sports coach and president of Athletics Alberta. She spoke about the practical difficulties of implementing policies in which transwomen are eligible for female competitions.
She was followed by cyclist Dr Jennifer Assali, who spoke about her experience of racing against trans cyclist Rachel McKinnon.
Dr Nicola Williams then spoke about the work Fair Play For Women had been doing engaging with the sports national governing bodies and UK Sports Councils about the need for female-only changing rooms.
Then time for another surprise video guest with a message of encouragement from Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes.
Finally, Dr Williams sat down with Sharron Davies MBE to talk about her life in sport and why she cares about the issue. Sharron is a sporting icon. At age 11 she set her first British swimming record. At age 13 she represented Great Britain at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. Four years later in Moscow she took the silver medal in the 400m individual medley behind East German, Petra Schneider (who later admitted that her victory was drug-enhanced). Sharron, a twenty-time British champion, has collected a wealth of international medals and has broken 200 British swimming records and five World Masters records. During Sharron’s 45 year career as an elite athlete and sports journalist, she has attended 11 Olympic Games and every World, European & Commonwealth Championships in between. She now works as a media presenter, commentator, motivational speaker, host, sporting advocate, personal trainer and mum of three.
Judith Green of WPUK then closed the meeting with a moving letter from a supporter.
And so ended an incredible meeting! One of the largest ever WPUK meetings and jointly hosted by Fair Play For Women.
One year on – we are being heard
Since this ground-breaking conference just one year ago our voices have started to be heard. Fair Play For Women has now established itself as an important stakeholder representing the sex-based rights of women and girls in sport.
July 2019 – Fair Play For Women participated in a Sport England round table meeting to review its guidance for trans inclusion in sports changing rooms.
October 2019 – Dr Williams spoke from the floor at a legal event about trans inclusion in female sport. This led to her being introduced to the international federation for athletics, IAAF (World Athletics). She was then invited to participate in the first meeting of an IAAF-led consultation on trans inclusion rules for sport, held in Switzerland.
November 2019 – Fair Play For Women was invited by the IOC to participate in a review of its transgender eligibility policy.
December 2019 – Dr Williams was shortlisted for a sports award. She didn’t win, but being nominated was a win for Fair Play For Women, consolidating her position as an important and respected voice in women’s sport.
February 2020 – Dr Williams and Dr Hilton were both invited to present at a two-day meeting held by World Rugby to review the safety concerns surrounding the inclusion of trans players in women’s rugby.
June 2020 – Fair Play For Women was asked to participate in a comprehensive review being conducted by all five of the UK’s Sports Councils. The Sports Council Equality Group has now commissioned independent sports consultants to consult widely with athletes, coach, officials, sports scientists, sports lawyers and campaign groups and to produce new guidance for NGB’s on trans-inclusion in competitive sport.