Transgender debate centre stage

With news that female players have called on the LTA to re-examine its transgender player policy, Chief Writer RJ Mitchell takes a look at the wider sporting landscape and how other organisations are dealing the issue.

The issue of transgender participation in women’s sport has once more taken centre stage with the victory of Austin Killips, a transgender female athlete, in stage five of the Tour of Gila in New Mexico, making the 27-year-old the first trans athlete to win a UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) women’s stage race.

This victory, which also saw Killips acclaimed ‘Queen of the Mountains’, has meant that the UCI’S transgender policy, which differs from those of other international governing bodies, such as World Athletics and World Aquatics (previously called Fina), which have banned transgender women from competing in the female category at international events, is once more under review.

And now the LTA is facing similar calls for a review of its policy after a transgender female entered – in line with LTA policy – a Grade 1 padel tournament, creating a groundswell of concern among female players who raised the issue with the British tennis and padel governing body.

The LTA’s ‘Policy and guidance on trans people playing tennis’ is under review. It is not known if this review resulted from the women’s concerns but some six months later there is no update. The transgender issue has embroiled A-list sporting royalty such as former Olympic swimming golden girl Sharron Davies and even multi-million selling author JK Rowling.

There are three key strands of concern:

1: A definitive timescale for an LTA decision being taken in line with the stance taken by swimming and athletics to safeguard the competitive rights of women padel players to compete on a level biological playing court 

2: A distinct concern for the ability of any transgender player to continue her/his padel journey – perhaps in a new ‘open’ category

3: Explanation of the impact on current LTA policy

Cricket concerns

Another example of how incendiary the handling of the transgender issue in competitive sport has become surfaced in recent weeks when Priti Patel, the former home secretary, and a life MCC member, called the England and Wales Cricket Board’s transgender policy ‘shameful’ after the concerns of six first-class counties about a transgender woman being allowed to compete against 12-year-old girls were revealed.

Patel, in the Daily Telegraph, went on to say: “The safety of women and girls should never be compromised. The only way is to make female teams for those born female and no one else.”

Her comments were endorsed by Baroness Foster, the Conservative former deputy leader in the European Parliament, who said: “Astonishing. That the ECB could even think there are no risks is beyond me.”

Professor Ross Tucker, the South African sports scientist instrumental in persuading World Rugby to ban transgender athletes from female competition, has also admitted his alarm at the ECB stance. He said: “If you allow males into women’s sport, then adults into kids’ sport is similar, conceptually, and so is adult male into girls’ sport. You get more of what you permit.”

All of which has left Fiona McAnena, Fair Play for Women’s director of sport to say: “This story has touched a nerve because of the impact on girls. Women are expected to make way for others but the clear conflict between the wishes of the trans player and the rights of girls shows there’s a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.”

Meanwhile in the wake of Austin Killips one minute and 29 seconds runaway success in New Mexico, American three-time Olympian Inga Thompson fired a broadside at the UCI – cycling’s global governing body, claiming it was ‘killing off women’s cycling’.

Thompson told the Daily Telegraph she expected Killips to ‘potentially’ go on to compete in the Tour de France Femmes and the Paris Olympics, adding that ‘…women are just quietly walking away. They think ‘why bother if it’s not fair?’.”

While Canada’s Olympic silver medallist Alison Sydor also criticised Killips’ participation, stating it was ‘no different functionally than doping’.

LTA CEO Scott Lloyd not only has an elephant in his office but a potential time-bomb ticking under his desk. 🎾