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Sport: Transgender Inclusion

Volume 815: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Sports Council Equalities Group’s Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport, published on 30 September, and in particular the conclusion that “the inclusion of transgender people into female sport cannot be balanced regarding transgender inclusion, fairness and safety in gender-affected sport where there is meaningful competition”.

My Lords, the Government are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, as well as safety and fairness, across all levels of sport. We believe that this guidance is well researched and well considered. It acknowledges the complexity of balancing inclusion, fairness and safety and it provides a decision-making framework to help individual sports decide what is right for their circumstances. It thereby helps to address a gap which has been present for too long in the sports sector.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response and I declare my interest as a former chairman of the Football Association. In 2009, we successfully invested £11 million to boost a brilliant sport: women’s football. As with all sports, the aim was to compete in a fair way and to do it with integrity, player safety and inclusion. The Sports Council Equality Group’s report makes it undeniably clear that including male-bodied transgender people in most female sports vitiates these principles and will undermine those sports. Sports administrators admit that their current confused approach is not fit for purpose but they fear an angry response. Will the Minister meet me and other sports administrators to generate advice on securing appropriate transgender involvement while protecting the fairness and safety of female sports—advice which will wholly guarantee women’s genuine sporting competition and integrity?

My Lords, if I may, I will start with the very opening words of the foreword from this guidance:

“We want sport to be a place where everyone can be themselves, where everyone can take part and where everyone is treated with kindness, dignity and respect.”

The guidance is based on evidence and research and it took a lot of views and consultation. It is right that sports bodies have their own rules and will work on implementing these in relation to their own sport. It probably will not be for me to meet the noble Lord, but I will certainly take the request back to the Sports Minister and I am sure he will be happy to have that meeting.

My Lords, the latest guidance allows for the possibility of testosterone suppression to permit transgender women to take part in women’s sports, but this is costly and intrusive for them and does not guarantee fairness for women. Does my noble friend agree that for almost all sports, the only rational solution which is safe and fair for all is to have two categories: an open category for everyone and one reserved for natal women only?

The guidance looks into the question of testosterone suppression, and many people working or competing in sport do not consider that that has created fairness or safety in their individual sports. The evidence is clear that there are retained advantages in strength, stamina and physique for the average transgender women, with or without testosterone suppression; that has not proved the silver bullet that many hoped it would be. That is why the sports councils are encouraging governing bodies to consider alternative approaches for their sport. In some cases that will be universal participation and in others it will not, but it is right that they do that on a case-by-case basis.

My Lords, I do not refer to the debate around this question but I am deeply concerned about the public debate around trans issues and trans women in particular, and the continuous depiction of them as a threat. Therefore, does the Minister agree that whenever we raise issues with regard to any minority, we should be specific and evidence-based and should never knowingly or unwittingly fuel prejudice, hatred or misrepresentation, especially against minorities such as trans women, who daily face dangerous defamation and misrepresentation?

I strongly agree with the noble Lord and I am pleased to say that the sports councils’ work has followed that approach. The intention of their guidance is to encourage sports to think in innovative ways to ensure that nobody is left out. I am mindful that these exchanges will be followed by many people affected on a personal level, so I want everyone to hear very clearly that we want everybody to have every opportunity to enjoy, compete in and excel in sport.

My Lords, does not that mean that we should ensure that there is a way to have full, open and tolerant debate; and that those organisations that proselytise a “no debate” concept and accuse people who raise legitimate issues of being transphobic should desist? The Minister cannot instruct sports organisations what to do; he can encourage them to have courage to take on board what is in this guidance.

Again, I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of tolerant debate, such as we have in your Lordships’ House. As the sports councils say in their guidance:

“We hope to see sports bodies across the UK engaging in the conversation in a respectful way and develop policies in this area which help facilitate access for everyone to participate.”

A number of governing bodies have already said what they will do in the light of it, and we encourage others to look at it as well.

My Lords, the report seems a fairly reasonable attempt to try to square a circle between the safety and integrity of sport and the right of inclusion. Will the Government assist those governing bodies in making sure that they do not have a policy that excludes people from low-level recreational sport if they are in the trans category? Will they also ensure that it is not used in any way to restrict people in sports where men and women compete on even terms? I refer to the equestrian sports as a starting point.

Yes, I agree. The sports councils’ guidance supports that as well, as it aims to help governing bodies determine the right position for their particular sport. As the guidance says,

“what is right for one sport may not be right for another.”

Of course, it looks at low-level and recreational sport as well as competitive sport, and that is a job for the governing bodies then to take forward in relation to their sport.

My Lords, for many of us, sport is a unifying force, whether it is taking to the pitch with a diverse group of teammates or supporting a team from the grandstand. As the Sports Council Equality Group noted, the two main views on this matter “couldn’t be reconciled”, requiring

“a reset and fresh thinking.”

Rather than attempting to shut down this exercise, as some might, does the Minister endorse the group’s suggestion that individual sports explore whether more than one version of their sport can be offered in order to meet different aims?

Yes, as the guidance says, there can be no one-size-fits-all approach that covers every sport at every level in the country, and that is why it is right that the governing bodies look at what might be appropriate in their particular sport, so that they can balance, as far as they can, inclusion, safety and fairness.

My Lords, allegedly, the Ministry of Defence’s inclusive language guide, which quotes verbatim from Stonewall, advises staff to take care using “female”. The aim is to avoid erasing gender-nonconforming people and members of the trans community. As this risks erasing women instead, and cuts across the Defence Secretary’s drive for the military to become more female-friendly, is this an example of a lobbying group obstructing the policy of the elected Government?

I will leave colleagues in the Ministry of Defence to answer about their guide, but the sports councils’ guidance does not contain this wording or offer any advice on language. It aims to helps sports consider how to be inclusive without erasing anybody.

I am sure that the Minister would agree that we should do all we can to increase participation in sport, so does he share the aspiration of the five sports councils to see increased transgender participation in sport and support their message to create novel or modified versions of some sports to increase inclusion?

Yes, increasing everybody’s participation in sport is the main aim of the Government’s strategy, Sporting Future, so I certainly support the message from the sports councils to individual governing bodies to think in innovative and creative ways to ensure that no one is left out. As the noble Baroness says, that might involve novel or modified versions of their sport. Creating the right environment is important so that everybody, whoever they are, can take part and get active.

My Lords, it is clear that trans women cannot belong in the female sports category because they have a male performative advantage, however they identify, which is inherently unfair. Obviously, trans women should be able to compete fairly in sport. Will the Minister meet Dr Nicola Williams and colleagues from Fair Play for Women, which has some excellent, detailed proposals for including trans people in sport without disadvantaging women, and is courageous enough to open up the debate, not close it down?

My Lords, this varies from sport to sport. I took part in your Lordships’ full-bore rifle shooting match against the other place, which I regret to say that we lost. That is a sport on which men and women already compete on an equal basis. Some sports are games of skill, some of stamina and some of strength. That is why it is right that there is a case-by-case approach for each sport. I will take forward the meeting suggestion, as I did for the noble Lord, Lord Triesman.

My Lords, sport really does have the power to change lives. I saw that when I was Sports Minister. Competition is also hugely important for enjoyment in sport, but it must be fair and it must be seen to be fair. Does the Minister agree that the evidence increasingly suggests that the approach of simply measuring testosterone levels in the blood does not take into account the full breadth of biological differences between those who have gone through male versus female puberty, and that this can lead to unfairness in competitive sport?

As I said, the sports councils looked into this and said that

“the research that we currently have shows that testosterone reduction or suppression does not negate all the physiological advantages of having developed testosterone-driven strength, stamina and physique.”

That is why the advice to the individual governing bodies is to look at what is right for their sport and to balance inclusion with fairness and safety, so that people can enjoy sport, whether it is competitive or recreational.