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Sport NZ releases guidelines to accommodate transgender athletes

Sport New Zealand’s (SNZ) new transgender guidelines have been released after two years of consultation. Dictated by the Minister for Sport Grant Robertson, they state individuals can self identify as male or female, simply for the purpose of participating in a sport. The guidelines apply to community and local sport and not elite level sport.

These guidelines are aimed at making sport more inclusive for those who identify and wish to compete as the other gender. They encourage community sports groups to use preferred pronouns of trans athletes, appoint inclusion officers, remove urinals and redesign uniforms to accommodate trans athletes.

To be viewed as guiding principles, not rules 

These guidelines should be seen as guiding principles, not rules, says SNZ’s chief executive Raelene Castle. Castle believes it isn’t really possible to create a single code for all sports. Individual sports facilities and groups should not lose funding for choosing to not adopt the guidelines, but they are packaged as best practices by SNZ.

However, if competitors or facilitators object to having a transgender player in their facilities or teams, they could face backlash including disciplinary action says co-founder of Save Women’s Sport Australasia (SWSA) Rowena Edge.

Sport New Zealand has refused to even consider the scientific evidence that clearly sets out the differences in male and female physiology that provide indisputable male advantage in sports involving strength, stamina or speed. It has also refused to take into account the significantly increased safety risk of allowing a male body to compete against women in contact or combat sports. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that female athletes are at significantly greater risk of a traumatic brain injury event than male athletes. They also fare worse after a concussion and take longer to recover.

SWSA research, conducted in partnership with market research company Curia, found only 27% of the New Zealand public supported males self-identifying as women being able to compete in women’s sport, with 55% opposed and 19% unsure.

Lexie Matheson, a trans-athlete, Auckland University of Technology (AUT) lecturer and trans-sports advocate doesn’t believe physicality is an issue in competitions. 

SNZ’s transgender guidelines may contradict the Human Rights Act

SNZ’s new transgender guidelines appear to contradict section 49 of the NZ Human Rights Act, says Edge. The Act specifically allows for gender-based exclusion in sports competition, when physical strength, size or stamina are factors for competition.

The Human Rights Commission has conflated gender and sex in their policy, and can’t be relied on to protect women’s rights, she says. These guidelines also state that sports organisations should not disclose the biological sex of competitors. To do so could result in a competitor being labelled discriminatory, says Edge.

Children’s sport is already being affected, says Edge. Biological boys have been participating in girls sport, frustrating both parents and the children participating, creating an unfair playing field for junior athletes and ultimately disincentivizing girls participation.

“Participation in sport brings physical, mental health, and social benefits that should be accessible to all, but not at the expense of fairness and safety to female players,” says Edge.

New Zealand political parties respond to SNZ’s new guidelines

Winston Peters blasted SNZ’s new transgender guidelines on social media. “The state has no place in people’s bedrooms – and biological males have no place in women’s sports,” he said. “If Mr Robertson doesn’t understand that then he shouldn’t be Minister of Sport.”

Grant Robertson responded to those opposing these guidelines, calling them petty and small minded. Robertson referred to these guidelines as a “really important piece of work”.

National and ACT parties seem to have taken a fairly neutral stances. There is speculation they would prefer it be left up to clubs to set their own policies.

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