Transgender athletes can participate in community sport, says Sport NZ

Transgender athletes will be able to participate in sport in the gender they identify with, and will not need to “prove or … justify” their identity according to new guiding principles released by Sport New Zealand.

The principles only apply to community level sport – not elite level sport – but it will be up to sports bodies to define where and how the trans athletes will participate.

Sports bodies will not lose funding if they do not adopt the principles within their inclusion and diversity policies, and some organizations may have policies that reflect safety over inclusion, Sport New Zealand chief executive Raelene Castle said.

Castle said the principles are a good “start point for conversation”.

Sport NZ's new transgender inclusion principles follows years or consultation

Zoe George/Stuff

Sport NZ’s new transgender inclusion principles follows years or consultation

“The reality is, we’re living in a world now where we have lots of diversity, and what the aspiration is that the diversity piece is identified, and then the inclusion piece is satisfied,” she said.

“…these guidelines are looking to try and help … our sports and volunteers understand what ‘good’ looks like when engaging with our transgender community so that they can feel safe in having conversations and ultimately our transgender community can walk into community sport, and know that they’re going to get supported…”

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Transgender people can take part in sports in the gender they identify with rather than the sex assigned at birth, the document says, meaning transgender women are able to participate in women’s sport and vice versa. Athletes will not need to “prove or otherwise justify their gender, sex or gender identity”, said Sport NZ in its release on Tuesday.

Sports bodies are being encouraged by Sport NZ to write, update or expand their own transgender inclusion policies based on the guiding principles, to make spaces like changing rooms and toilets more accessible, and to reflect on uniforms and registration form design.

The release of the principles – that encompass wellbeing and safety, privacy and dignity, anti-discrimination, anti-bullying and anti-harassment, listening and responding, and education – follows a lengthy consultation period, with the drafting of the new document starting in November 2020.

A Petition and a letter signed by several prominent athletes calling for further consultation was submitted to parliament in June 2021.

University of Otago Emeritus Professor of Sports Medicine David Gerrard was part of Sport NZ's principles consultation

Tim Hales/NZPA

University of Otago Emeritus Professor of Sports Medicine David Gerrard was part of Sport NZ’s principles consultation

Among the letter signatories was University of Otago Emeritus Professor of Sports Medicine and former Olympic athlete David Gerrard.

He said there could have been more “biological scientific objectivity” to the consultation process.

Gerrard is concerned about the transition between community and elite level sport, and has called for Sport NZ to be part of the process with national sports organisation.

Castle confirmed Sport NZ and High Performance Sport NZ would offer guidance for sports balancing the community principles with its global governing body’s policies for elite level competitions.

In June, Fina – world swimming’s governing body – adopted new rules for transgender athletes, only permitting swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events. An open category for transgender and gender diverse athletes was proposed. gerrard voted in favor of the changes on behalf of New Zealand.

Swimming NZ chief executive Steve Johns said in a message to Stuff the organization will take some time to work through the Sport NZ principles and talk with regions before deciding on a transgender policy in the new year.

In 2020 World Rugby banned transgender women from women’s rugby, but NZ Rugby has signaled it will allow transgender athletes to play community level rugby.

NZ Rugby’s participation development manager of community rugby Mike Hester said transgender inclusion in sport is “complex and its important New Zealand Rugby gets it right”.

“What we have heard is that our rugby community want to see what an inclusive approach looks like. The transgender community also wanted real clarity about what participation might look like for them,” he said.

“We are in the final stages of developing the next phase of consultation, and it is now important we hear the views of our participants and stakeholders on that inclusive approach before making a decision.

“We continue to work alongside Sport NZ, it is great to see strong leadership from them in this space. We anticipate a decision on transgender inclusion in community rugby to be made next year.”

Transgender and gender diverse communities make up a small percentage of the general New Zealand population. The number of those who participate in sport is even smaller.

Youth 19 research found approximately 1% of Kiwi high school students are transgender or gender diverse, while those aged 15+, it’s about 0.8%, according to the StatsNZ Household Economic Survey.

Transgender women, who are often at the center of the sport inclusion discussion, make up approximately 33% of the trans and gender diverse communitiesapproximately 0.26% – or about 13,000 – of the general population.

Only 14% of the transgender or gender diverse communities have participated in any recent sporting activities, almost half of the rate of the general population, according to Counting Ourselvesthe biggest research into trans and gender diverse experience in New Zealand.

Counting Ourselves researcher Jack Byrne welcomed Sport NZ's guiding principles


Counting Ourselves researcher Jack Byrne welcomed Sport NZ’s guiding principles

Jack Byrne, co-principal investigator of Counting Ourselves said trans and non-binary people described personal experiences of discrimination, or how they gave up playing sport because they worried they would not be accepted.

“The guiding principles released today are important because they emphasize inclusion for everyone, whether you are trans or non-binary or cisgender”.

The researchers are currently collecting further dataand have asked specific questions about sport participation of this community, closing on December 14.

“We hope to find out more about the difference it can make when sports bodies, clubs, coaches and players welcome and include trans and non-binary people,” Byrne said.

“Sport gives so many people a sense of belonging and pride, and that can be life-changing for some trans and non-binary people”.

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