This year at the FiLiA conference in Glasgow, we hosted a meeting to discuss progress on protecting women’s sport, following our main-stage event at FiLiA 2022 in Cardiff. Kim Jones of ICONS, who was a speaker last year, came to FiLiA in person this year as a delegate. This gave us a chance to hear from her about what is happening in the USA so we held a fringe meeting open to all. We invited For Women Scotland Sport and Women’s Rights Network Sport to join us and give an update on their work. There was plenty of audience participation and a Q&A to share learning and plan future activity.
Why does sport matter?
- Sport and recreation is important to millions of women and girls in the UK, for our health, wellbeing and happiness. Some women and girls need access to female-only sport. They should have that.
- If there is visible unfairness to women in sport, which is meant to be fair and governed by rules that apply to all, that is really saying women and girls don’t matter. At least, they don’t matter as much as the feelings of some males who say they are women.
- If sport can be blatantly unfair then what chance of fairness for women and girls in other areas that are less transparent?
- Men see this too, although they are largely unaffected. The obvious unfairness of seeing people like Lia Thomas in women’s events wakes men up to the problem.
- It’s not about motivation, or who’s “genuine” – it’s just about male bodies in categories intended for female bodies. Sport is played by sexed bodies not by identities.
- Sport connects to other areas where women’s boundaries are being eroded, like changing rooms. School sport is becoming unfair, limiting girls’ opportunities and their self-esteem.
Fiona of Fair Play For Women set the scene, showing why sport is an important battleground. She welcomed the work being done by different groups. When change happens, we often don’t know what has made the difference. Fair Play For Women does much of its work behind the scenes, talking to decision-makers in sport without fanfare so that they know they can trust us. Others are out there at sporting events raising awareness. It all makes a difference. As someone once said,
“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”
Reports from the field
Alison Weir of FWS Sport talked about how women’s voices need to be heard on this issue. FWS Sport are now starting to be consulted by Scottish national governing bodies of sport (NGBs). Fair Play For Women talks to the same NGBs, so now they are hearing from two women’s groups, it’s harder for them to dismiss what we tell them we are hearing from women in their sport.
Maria Waite of WRN Sport gave an overview of their Summer of Sport, which has generated plenty of media coverage. She talked about their parkrun campaign, in which different parkruns get a visit from WRN women wearing their Save Women’s Sport t shirts. Many parkrunners are shocked to hear that parkrun allows male runners to register as female and take women’s finish places and even course records. The parkrun website has a “prefer not to say” option so there’s really no need for this. They say, it’s a run not a race. Sure – but they publish results in ranked order, and everything from places to age grades to course records is reported by sex, because sex makes a big difference in running.
Kim Jones talked about the challenges in the USA, which lacks the legal protections for sex that we have in the UK through the Equality Act. Her call to action was to speak out and not to be afraid. Many who have done so, like Riley Gaines (here talking to Fiona at FiLiA 2022), have found huge support and have not suffered a detriment. The recent media conference staged by the Roanoke College women’s swimming team with help from ICONS shows how far we have come from early 2022 when no one was prepared for the Lia Thomas scenario, and the swimmers were told to keep quiet or suffer consequences. At Roanoke, where a male swimmer has been allowed to join the women’s team, all the young women stuck together to call it out as unfair, and all the team captains spoke at the media event.
What can you do?
We need to keep the pressure on the governing bodies of sports that have not yet amended their rules to protect the female category.
Tell them you want sport to be inclusive of all, and this means there has to be a protected category for those born female. Otherwise, it becomes mixed sex, and that disadvantages women and girls. Use the draft emails here to raise your concerns with your club, governing body, MP. Ask others in your club to do the same. Tell them that if elite sport should be fair, then so should all sport. Why wouldn’t teenage girls deserve fairness as much as professional sportswomen? Unless you believe the feelings of teenage boys matter more, then sport must be fair at all levels. After all, 99.9% of sport is not elite.
Tell us your stories!
Please email us via our website to share your experience. We need to show that so-called trans-inclusive policies lead to exclusion or self-exclusion of women and girls. We hear from women who have dropped out rather than continue with the unfairness, and sometimes the injury risk. We are compiling the evidence to show that it is more inclusive to have a dedicated category for females than to allow males claiming a trans identity into women’s events.
Whether it’s been about being put off by male presence, or a positive story about an all-female sporting or recreational activity, please tell us. It can be anonymous, and we know why it sometimes has to be. Stories of trans-identifying male or female players being included more generally are also welcome. Our goal is that it should be completely normal to have female-only training sessions, teams, races, events. That can include trans-identifying females. Males with a trans identity can be welcomed into other events and sessions, where everyone knows it will be mixed sex.
What’s gone wrong in female-only sport (published in the Daily Telegraph, February 2023)