A team of trans athletes stand in a group on hockey ice. They wear blue and pink uniforms, helmets, and hockey equipment. Trans Athletes. Spark Solutions

Creating Better Sport Environments for Trans Athletes

When organizers are organizing sport, they should do everything in their power to ensure sport is accessible to all. This includes accessibility for trans athletes, who are athletes whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth. Trans athletes have found the sport community to be exclusionary and discriminatory due to strictly enforced binary rules of men and/or women’s sports teams. As a result, they have pushed for more equitable practices.

In 2014, the Ontario Human Rights Legal Support Centre and a youth ice hockey player negotiated a settlement requiring Hockey Canada to allow all players in Ontario to use locker rooms that match their self-identified gender identity. As well, Hockey Canada was required to review and revise its procedures to protect privacy around players’ trans status and provide training to all Ontario coaches on gender identity and related discrimination and harassment. This landmark case has led other organizers to rethink their practices in order to develop policies and practices that are more inclusive to trans athletes.

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport released Guidance for Sport Organizations in 2016. This document helps sport organizations develop their own trans inclusion policies and best practices. CCES followed up with a Policy and Practice Template for Sport Organizations in 2018, a policy template that assists sport organizations to create their own trans inclusion documents. The rest of this post will share some of the recommendations included within those two documents. This is not an exhaustive article and therefore, I recommend people check out the available resources for greater information and context.

Principles for Developing Trans Inclusive Sport Policy and Practice

  • Trans athletes should have equal opportunity to participate in sport and strive for excellence.
  • Policies governing the participation of trans athletes should nurture fair play, honesty and respect, and preserve the integrity of sport.
  • Policies governing the participation of trans athletes should embrace diversity and offer a positive sporting experience, free of discrimination.
  • Participation in sport should celebrate differences and focus on the benefits and the joy of sport.
  • Policies governing the participation of trans athletes should be evidence-based and recognize the necessity to protect the privacy rights of the athletes and strive to prevent physical, emotional and mental harm.
  • Policies governing the participation of trans athletes should foster access and equitable participation for all participants.
  • Practices that encourage understanding and support of trans athletes need to be enhanced to acknowledge the challenges and recognize the value of advocating for sport that is fair, safe and open to everyone.

Policy Recommendations for Implementation

  • Athletes participating in soccer in the Long Term Player Development stages of Active Start, FUNdamentals, Learn to Train, Train to Train and Train to Compete (until international regulations become relevant), together with Active for Life, should be able to participate in the gender with which they identify, and not be required to disclose personal information beyond what is required of cisgender (male/female as assigned at birth) athletes. There should be no requirement for hormonal therapy or surgery.
  • Athletes should be recognized and acknowledged by the name and pronouns they use.
  • Gender identity and gender expression should be added to the Code of Conduct as items which may not be discriminated against.
  • Hormone therapy should not be required for an individual to participate in sport until they enter a level of sport (Train to Compete and Train to Win) where regulations require it. It is important to note that this should not be required at that stage either. However, we can only control what goes on within our own sport environments.
  • Individuals should not be required to disclose their trans identity or history to participate in sport, until they reach a level of competition (Train to Compete and Train to Win, where international regulations become relevant) that requires them to. Organizations engaging in high-performance sport and wanting to implement this eligibility clause would have to provide a safe, transparent process by which trans athletes are able to disclose their trans identity or history to the organization.
  • Individuals should not be required to undergo surgery in order to participate in sport for any reason. Any suggestion from a sport organization, or individual associated with that organization, that an individual should pursue gender-affirming surgery would risk violating human rights law and may be considered a significant form of discrimination.

Best Practices for Positive Verbal and Emotional Environment

  • Ensure that key organizational documents (bylaws, policies, etc.) proactively state the Member Organization’s intention to be inclusive.
  • Respect an individual’s right to be referred to by the name and pronouns they use. All individuals have the right to be addressed by the name and pronouns that align with their gender identity and/or gender expression. This is true whether or not the individual has obtained legal documentation of a change of name or gender designation.
  • Ensure that information gathered from all participants is necessary and appropriate. Avoid seeking information, unless it is truly relevant, that might unwittingly oblige individuals to divulge personal information. Ensure that the questions asked of participants are truly necessary, especially if the questions could reveal someone’s trans identity (before asking about legal name, gender or medical information, ensure it is a legitimate and necessary request). If a legal name is necessary, ask for it as well as the name by which they prefer to be called.
  • Maintain information and records in a way that respects an individual’s right to privacy and confidentiality. Ensure that administrative processes are organized to be able to change a participant’s name and gender when needed, and protect an individual’s trans status. No information should be given out concerning someone’s gender identity or stage of transition status, without the individual’s express consent.
  • Ensure all written materials and websites use inclusive language and images. Organizations should ensure that all written and online materials demonstrate their commitment to trans inclusion.
  • Have clear and documented organizational processes in place that respond to participants’ individual needs. There should be discrete and informed processes to assist athletes at various stages of transition. Individuals have different needs, and the support that works for one person may not work for another. Organizations should ensure that organizational supports are available and tailored and adapted to the individual needs of participants.
  • Provide learning opportunities that build the capacity of staff, volunteers, participants and spectators to understand and support diverse gender identities 

Best Practices for Positive Physical Environment for All

  • Providing safe access to washrooms and change-room facilities. Facilities should provide gender neutral bathroom and dressing room facilities to avoid individuals or teams having to make special requests and thereby risk exposing a trans athlete. All environments should be safe and inclusive.
  • Ensure uniforms and dress codes respect an individual’s gender identity and gender expression. A flexible and gender-inclusive uniform or dress code recognizes that all participants have the right to dress in a manner consistent with their gender identity or gender expression.
  • Avoid forms that capture unnecessary information, such as declaration of gender, and ensure that when such information is required that categories be inclusive. When creating forms, consider whether information about gender is critically important to the service being provided. It is important for organizations to consider why they are asking for this information, be it for entry categorization or for demographic or reporting purposes.

Final Thoughts

For most of us, working with people of diverse genders is a new experience, and we can feel uncomfortable as we navigate this territory. Many of us are concerned with making mistakes and often don’t try as a result. It is alright for us, as sport organizers, to do this imperfectly as we work to make sport more inclusive. I am here to assist you with creating better policies and practices to welcome trans participants into our sports. Reach out to talk about how we can do that.

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