One of Australia’s first openly transgender pro athletes Ricki Coughlan has hit out at FINA’s polarising ban on trans swimmers and said their eligibility should instead be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Ricki Coughlan (pictured) was one of Australia’s first prominent transgender sportswomen, competing in athletics during the 1990s.
Coughlan said FINA’s policy announcement banning transgender athletes from women’s elite competition if they transitioned after the age of 12, shows sporting officials “are still not thinking things through properly”.
She said in her view the FINA decision “fails in leadership and it is lazy on science and ethics.”
“It’s taken a very nuanced scientific, physiological, ethical and social debate and rendered it down to something that’s far too simplistic in my view,” Coughlan told ABC Radio.
“There’s great diversity among transgender women. This fails to take that into account.”
She said sporting bodies should determine trans athletes’ eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
“When I was outed [as trans] in the early 90s, I was subjected to a range to testing by the Australian Institute of Sport,” she said.
“They applied what they found in my testing to the norms of women competing in the sport.
“They found that I conformed to all of those norms. There may be transgender women who don’t. But there are clearly transgender women who do.
“I think sport ought to be able to organise and understand the physical parameters that women bring to their particular sporting code.
“Then, apply those tests to any transgender women who put their hand up to participate in elite sport.”
Ricki Coughlan was outed as transgender in 1991
Ricki Coughlan recalled her “outing” as transgender at the height of her career in 1991 was “brutal”.
“It was on national news bulletins and on newspapers’ front pages across the country,” she said.
“I was struggling because I thought I was going to see a barrage of hate. But I was met with a barrage of support and a very welcoming, amazing Australia.
“The women I competed with, supported me. When I went in to my first meeting with Athletics NSW, they said to me, ‘Athletics is a sport for everyone and there is a place for you in our sport.’
“That is the highest principles of sport. Sport must be for everybody because sport must reflect our culture and our values.
“Surely, our culture must be one that at least aspires to inclusion, not exclusion of people from society.”
FINA bans elite trans swimmers, segregates them to ‘open category’
FINA announced yesterday that transgender athletes who had experienced male puberty could no longer compete in elite women’s sport.
“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete,” FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said.
“But we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions.”
He said the policy had come from a working group comprised of athlete representatives, science and medical experts, and legal and human rights experts.
The new policy also proposed a contentious new “open category”.
“FINA will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level,” Musallam said.
“This has not been done before. So FINA will need to lead the way.”
FINA said there are currently no transgender women competing in elite levels of swimming.
Meanwhile, International Rugby League has also revealed it would temporarily bar transgender women from international women’s competition.
The IRL said in a statement they needed further consultation and research before finalising its policy.
“The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on best possible evidence, which fairly balance the individual’s right to play with the safety of all participants,” it said.
Equality Australia slams lack of transparency by FINA
But local LGBTIQ group Equality Australia have challenged FINA to release the data and evidence behind its “trans-exclusionary” policy.
The group said the FINA policy effectively applies a blanket ban on women who are trans participating in elite swimming.
“Human rights principles require such policies to start from a place of inclusion, unless exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified,” CEO Anna Brown said.
“FINA have failed to meet that standard.”
Anna Brown said the policy also prevents some intersex women from competing in women’s elite competition.
She said FINA’s policy forcing all elite athletes to undergo compulsory chromosomal assessment before participating in elite swimming was alarming.
“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,” she said.
“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.
“[The policy] will increase discrimination against trans and intersex people and expose intersex children to the further risk of so-called ‘sex normalisation’ procedures without their consent.”
FINA ‘blanket ban’ is a harmful precedent
Anna Brown said FINA and other sporting bodies must provide “a detailed explanation of the evidence they are relying upon before they exclude players from the sports they love.”
“Given the small number of trans athletes, the international principle of proportionately justifies taking a case-by-case approach, rather than imposing a blunt and harmful ban on everyone, no matter their differences,” she said.
“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.”
Equality Australia and Pride in Sport want Australian decisionmakers and commentators 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,” Pride in Sport’s Emma Staples said.
Staples said Australian sporting codes had worked hard for years to include transgender and non-binary people fairly and safely.
“This culture of inclusion is something to celebrate and protect,” she said.
“But FINA’s blanket ban sets a harmful precedent that threatens to impact sporting communities around the world.”
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