World Athletics blanket trans-exclusionary sports ban risks human rights violations

24 March 2023 – LGBTIQ+ human rights organisation Equality Australia and the Trans Justice Project have today warned governing sports bodies that blanket bans on women who are trans competing against other women risks violating fundamental human rights principles.

“Today’s announcement by World Athletics amounts to a blanket ban on women who are trans playing against other women”, said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia

“Such policies risk violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified.” 

“World Athletics has failed to meet that standard.”  

“We hope that the working group established to further consider the matter recommends a more sensible, proportionate and human rights compliant response.”   

In the statement released by World Athletics, the organisation noted that there are currently no transgender people competing at the international level and no specific evidence on elite transgender athletes. Despite this, the organisation applied an effective blanket ban on women who are transgender participating in competition.  

“The banning of trans women from sport is discriminatory and not supported by the latest scientific research. This is a political decision, rather than a considered move to ensure fairness”, said Jackie Turner, Director of the Trans Justice Project. 

“Right now, the trans community is under attack. Trans athletes in particular have been subject to campaigns of horrific abuse, harassment, and misogyny. This decision is about giving anti-trans lobbyists what they want, rather than doing what is right. 

“Sport should be for everyone, but all this policy does is send a signal to transgender people that they are no longer welcome.  

“Sporting bodies must consult with affected people and provide a detailed explanation of the evidence they are relying upon before they exclude players from the sports they love.   

“The fact is that women’s bodies – like all human bodies – are diverse. For powerful international sporting bodies to determine that only a particular type of woman can compete against other women sets a dangerous precedent.” 

The groups characterised the ban as pre-emptive and urged sporting bodies to ensure transparency of evidence and to prioritise consultation in the development of its policy.   

“Given the miniscule number of trans athletes playing in any sport, the international principle of proportionality justifies taking a case-by-case approach – rather than imposing a blunt and harmful ban on everyone, no matter their differences,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia

“As sporting bodies consider their positions, they must put the human rights of all athletes front and centre, paying special consideration to the rights of trans people to be able to compete fairly at an elite level with others of their gender to the maximum extent possible.”  

Alongside the transgender women policy, World Athletics has also updated its policy on intersex female athletes, which requires invasive and stigmatising medical procedures. 

“Intersex variations in the female population are a naturally occurring part of our physical diversity, and should be celebrated not banished from competition,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia

Last year, Equality Australia issued a joint statement with LGBTIQ+ sporting inclusion group Pride in Sport, calling on FINA to place a similar trans-exclusionary policy under immediate review, raising concerns it will increase discrimination against trans and intersex people and potentially expose intersex children to the further risk of so-called ‘sex normalisation’ procedures without their consent.   

“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 of Equality Australia.   

“World Athletics’ ban, like FINA’s before it 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 trans currently competing internationally.” 

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