FINA must place harmful, trans-exclusionary policy under review

20 June 2022 – Australian LGBTIQ+ equality and inclusion groups have today called on international swimming body FINA to place its new trans-exclusionary policy under review, urging Australian sporting bodies to proceed carefully as the new policy sets a harmful precedent, potentially violating human rights principles.

The groups say the FINA policy effectively applies a blanket ban on women who are trans participating in elite swimming, also preventing some intersex women from competing against other women in elite competition.

“All women deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are, whether they’re trans or not, and regardless of their innate sex characteristics”, said Anna Brown, CEO at Equality Australia.

“The fact is that women’s bodies – like all human bodies – are diverse. For a powerful international sporting body such as FINA to determine that only a particular type of woman can compete against other women sets a dangerous precedent, increasing discrimination against trans and intersex[i] people and exposing intersex children to the further risk of so-called ‘sex normalisation’ procedures without their consent.”  

The policy also forces all elite athletes to undergo a compulsory assessment to determine their chromosomal sex as a precondition for their participation in elite swimming, further potentially breaching human rights to privacy and prohibitions on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

“This ban will have impacts on the human rights of all athletes, but it will pose specific and serious risks of harm to intersex women and effectively exclude most trans women from competing at an elite level in a sport they love. It is completely unacceptable, particularly when there are no known trans women currently competing in elite swimming”, said Ms Brown.

“Human rights principles require such policies to start from a place of inclusion unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified. FINA have failed to meet that standard. 

“FINA should place the policy under review immediately, and urgently provide a detailed explanation of the evidence it relied upon and who was involved in making the determination that such discriminatory and intrusive measures are justified, and that the risks identified could not have been mitigated by anything less than a blanket ban.”

The groups called on decision makers and commentators in Australia – particularly the governing bodies of Australian sporting codes – to proceed with caution, prioritise inclusion, transparency and consultation in their responses.

“Sport should be for everyone. It builds community and supports individual and collective health and self-esteem”, said Emma Staples, Acting National Program Manager at Pride in Sport.  

“For years, sporting organisations across Australia have worked hard to include trans women, trans men and non-binary people, and to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and that everyone can participate safely and fairly.”

“This culture of inclusion is something that should be celebrated and protected, but FINA’s blanket ban sets a harmful precedent that threatens to impact sporting communities around the world.

“We look forward to continuing working with sporting bodies in Australia, and urge them to prioritise inclusion, only discriminating where there is clear risk to safety or fairness.”

Equality Australia and Pride in Sport also warned that such a precedent threatens the gains made in diversity and inclusion in the wider Australian community.

“All trans people want is to have same chance to live a good life as everyone else, and to be treated with dignity and respect”, said Jackie Turner, Trans Equality Advocate at Equality Australia.

“In recent years, we’ve made significant progress toward ensuring trans people are accepted and celebrated, and to remove some of the barriers we face to participating fully in the community.

“FINA’s policy sets a dangerous precedent of discrimination, and its impacts will be felt widely as anti-equality lobbyists seek to use it to justify excluding trans people from other parts of public life.”

Media Contact: Tara Ravens 0408 898 154, tara.ravens@equalityaustralia.org.au