Guest Post: International Women’s Sports Summit 

This op-ed was offered to Stuff, NZ Herald and Newsroom to publish. They all declined.

There has been some interesting discussion in the past week about who can enter women’s bathrooms and changing rooms, or play on women’s sports teams, as New Zealand First and then the Act Party have announced policy positions. 

In brief, NZ First plans to ban transgender women (biological males who identify as women) from women’s toilets, changing rooms and sports teams, and Act has said it will review the Births Deaths Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill (that enables people to change the sex on their birth certificate or ‘sex self-ID’) and the Human Rights Act.

Our media and major political parties would have us believe this is a non-issue and most New Zealanders don’t care. They say the cost of living, crime, health and education are more important, and I agree. But that doesn’t mean New Zealanders don’t care what happens when we allow males who identify as transgender in women’s spaces and sports teams. They do.

Last month I attended the International Women’s Sports Summit 2023 in the US, and presented as co-founder of the International Consortium on Female Sport (ICFS). We established the consortium earlier this year as we saw the need for a strong and united voice to advocate for the preservation of the female category in sport. We want to ensure the fairness and safety for those athletes born female.

For many years women’s groups from around the globe have been fighting to have fairness for females restored in sport, collaborating and supporting each other where we could. Yet we found the concerns we raised were dismissed and ignored, and we weren’t being given a seat at the table when these policies were being developed, while well-funded trans activist lobby groups have had the ear of our sporting leaders all the way up to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

Women deserve proper representation when decisions are to be made about their sports category and the ‘female voice’ must be considered when sports organisations undertake consultations regarding eligibility at every level – that’s local, regional, national, and international. The ICFS serves in this capacity and now includes members from the USA, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, NZ, Central America and Mexico. Our members stand united in the conviction that sport governing bodies must abide by fundamental principles of safety, privacy, and fairness, along with international laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination against biological females.

Recently there has been some movement. The Union Cycliste International (UCI) now prevents males (who have been through male puberty) who identify as transgender from competing in women’s cycling. It has joined World Rugby, FINA (world swimming’s governing body) and World Athletics to recognise the biological implications of sex and respect women’s rights to fair and safe sport.

While this sounds positive, Cycling New Zealand’s policy allows a person to compete in the sex category they identify with and New Zealand Rugby is yet to announce its policy but is aligned with Sport New Zealand (the major funder), which released guidelines that support a person competing in the sex category they identify in.

Many sports, especially at community level – which makes up by far the majority of sport in the world – have begun allowing total self-identification, prioritising the feelings and inclusion of males who identify as transgender in the female category over the feelings, fairness and safety of all females. 

Unfortunately, our political and sporting leaders have decided to believe that male advantage no longer exists in sport, when males who identify as transgender wish to participate in the female category. Or at least they think it doesn’t undermine meaningful competition for females enough to matter.

This position has seen sports allow biological males to take sporting opportunities from females, to injure female athletes and to attain female podiums and prizes. The fundamental rights of females to safety, privacy and fairness, along with international laws prohibiting sex-based discrimination against biological sex are being completely dismantled.

One of the first actions our Consortium did was to define key words that allow women to clearly articulate the objective reality of their physical bodies, so that sex-based discrimination cannot be ignored. This language, like the biology of sex, is not hateful or hurtful. Language is important in sports policies as it’s the only way we recognise women and girls in sport. It’s the only way we can defend their rights. And it’s the only way we can recognise when our rights to fairness, safety and inclusion are compromised. 

It goes without saying that everyone has a right to play sport, but just not in the category they choose for good biological reasons.

All sports should enshrine the significance of biology in their rule books to make it clear that the women’s category will always be protected for those athletes born female – from community sport to elite as, if fair and meaningful competition matters, then it matters at every level.

I encourage you to listen to these three key presentations given at the summit to understand why the female category in sport needs protection.

  • British philosophy and ethics Professor Jon Pike discussing the IOC’s theory of fairness in sport, explores category and competitive advantages in sport, and where male advantage fits within those. (22 mins)
  • World Rugby Head Scientist Ross Tucker PhD, who has also consulted with multiple governing bodies around the world, on how safe and sensible policy has resulted from apolitical data analysis and systemic processes and sometimes has been ignored. The implications for other sports and countries are clear. (1hr 22 mins)
  • Dr Greg Brown shares the data from pre-puberty athletic performance studies from around the globe. (28 mins)

Ro Edge is the co-founder of the International Consortium on Female Sport and established Save Women’s Sports Australasia in 2020. She has been leading the movement to protect the female category for sport in New Zealand and aims to work proactively with sports.

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