Only a game?

Here we reproduce the letter we have sent to SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell on the governing body’s review of its transgender inclusion policy, due this year

Dear Ian Maxwell

Women Voting With Our Feet was formed in 2021 to protect and fight for the sex-based rights of women and girls. These are rights legally provided for in the Equality Act 2010, which highlights sex – that is, being female – as one of nine protected characteristics. 

We are particularly concerned that opportunities in sport may be limited for women and girls where transwomen and transgirls (men and boys who identify as female) are included on female teams and in female categories. 

Many of us are lifelong football fans and many have connections to the game, as players, as employees, as writers, as coaches, as the parents and grandparents of girls playing. We are concerned about the negative impact on females in football from a policy that puts trans-inclusion above fairness and safety. We consider this to be unfair, off-putting for participation and even potentially physically dangerous for women and girls.

Such a policy of inclusion actually leads to women and girls excluding themselves from football. Even one transwoman or transgirl playing on a female team has a much wider impact beyond the single female player who has lost her place to them. Many women and girls may then be deterred from playing for reasons of privacy or because they feel the game is no longer fun or fair or because they feel rightly aggrieved that their friend and team-mate has been dropped. 

We understand the SFA’s transgender inclusion policy is due for review this year, and we would like the SFA’s Equalities and Diversity Board to take our concerns, detailed in the appendix attached, into consideration in any updated or new policy. 

We urge you and those charged with reviewing the SFA’s trans-inclusion policy to take our concerns and suggestions into account. We would also be happy to participate in any consultation activity you plan to hold – for example, survey, focus group or interview – and we look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely

Women Voting With Our Feet

Women Voting With Our Feet comments on SFA review of trans-inclusion policy in Scottish women’s football 

Participation

Research shows female participation in sport lags behind that of males. In particular, girls begin to drop out of sporting activity in their teenage years when going through puberty and beginning to menstruate. As a result of this imbalance in participation, sportscotland identified women and girls as one of the key groups that required focus to increase their involvement in sport. Women and girls from ethnic minority backgrounds also struggle to stay involved in physical activity and are one of the groups most at risk of exclusion. 

Participation is an issue at all levels of the game in Scotland: 

  • Children’s football: This is often mixed sex, where there are also key safeguarding concerns for protecting all children. A policy of prioritising trans inclusion – among, for example coaches – could affect participation levels for girls. 
  • Youth (post-puberty and pre-adult): A 15-year-old male who identifies as a girl and is playing with (and against) same-age girls presents a safety risk to all the other players. The youth game requires many risk assessments and safety adjustments. We consider it perverse to include male players where the physical differences and risks are manifest. Do the corporate insurance policies that clubs, the SFA and local authorities have in place cover liability for any injury caused in such circumstances? 
  • Adult female: In both competitive and recreational levels, the presence of male-bodied players is known to disincentivise female participation.  
  • Elite: At this level, we understand any policy needs to accord with FIFA and UEFA regulations, and we would welcome the SFA using its input to these bodies to prioritise fairness and safety for females.  
  • Post-competitive: In, for example, walking football, women should retain the right to expect that single-sex opportunities will be available for social reasons, for dignity and for health (such as the menopause).

When reviewing the transgender inclusion policy, we ask the SFA to pay particular attention to the women and girls who are actively excluded when male-bodied individuals are present in their teams, among coaching staff, on the pitches and in their changing areas. 

Safety and fairness

In September 2021, the Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG) conducted a comprehensive review of trans inclusive policies in the UK and developed new guidance for sport NGBs and SGBs. The report’s conclusion is that it is not possible to maintain fairness and safety in female sport in “meaningful competition” when trans-identifying males are allowed to compete in female categories. 

We know there are around 6000 physiological differences between male and female bodies, not simply testosterone (the suppression of which has proved a remarkably ineffective measure in inclusive policies) but height differences, longer limbs, bigger hearts and lungs, greater muscle mass, as well as faster twitch fibres that assist jumps and lead to more explosive sprint speeds. Hilton and Lundberg reported in 2021 that the “performance gap between males and females becomes significant at puberty and often amounts to 10-50% depending on sport”. The undeniable physical advantages that males have over females are a huge concern in a contact sport such as football.

The current discussion and research on the alarming cases of dementia among retired footballers, and the SFA’s proactive decision to ban heading a football in training sessions for six-11-year-olds, shows your organisation already takes seriously the issue of safety for its players.

We ask the SFA to engage fully with the guidance from SCEG and place fairness and safety for women and girls at the heart of any updated policy on transgender players in Scottish football.

Facilities 

To ensure football is more inclusive of women and girls, we consider that single-sex facilities must be maintained to promote dignity, safety and privacy. This should extend from changing areas and toilets for players, coaches and staff to toilets for fans. Evidence is growing that, in other parts of the UK where unisex facilities have been introduced in schools and recreation facilities that girls’ participation levels in sport are dropping. 

We know of cases where girls have withdrawn from football teams because the associated toilets are unisex. They found the fact that boys urinated in the sanitary disposal bins so off-putting they gave up after-school football. This is not a trivial issue and can easily be avoided by maintaining or restoring single-sex toilets.

We urge the SFA to encourage clubs and affiliated organisations to maintain single-sex changing rooms and toilet facilities for all involved in the women’s game.

Transparency 

Trans-identified males are currently playing on women’s teams in Scotland. However, there is no transparency in how many are officially – or correctly – registered to play as females. Opponents and even team-mates may not know they are taking to the field with a transgender woman. The registration system asks for gender, not sex, and relies on individuals to be honest and truthful in providing their details. We consider this to be potentially contrary to the Equality Act 2010, which requires authorities such as the SFA to be able to assess participation levels on the basis of sex, which is legally defined. There is no legal definition of the term gender, which is the label currently used in registration forms.

Regardless of the outcome of the review into your trans-inclusion policy, we ask that the SFA updates its registration system to ask for sex, not gender.

We ask that a more considered registration system be introduced that allows for greater checks and balances on player registrations.

We ask that a new whistleblower protocol be introduced so players, coaches and club officials can raise concerns about anything affecting the game in a safe and, if required, anonymous way. We are aware of female players and coaches of women’s teams who did not feel able to raise official concerns about transwomen players. They feared for their safety, employment and studies if they even made a query on this subject with the SFA.

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