The Daily Telegraph

Laws on gender fail to protect women’s sport, say athletics chiefs

- By Gabriella Swerling SOCIAL AFFAIRS EDITOR

THE Government was caught up in a row over transgende­r athletes last night after a sporting body claimed that the law failed to protect women’s sport.

UK Athletics (UKA) issued a statement calling for a “legislativ­e change” to “ensure the women’s category can be lawfully reserved for female [at birth] competitor­s”.

It made the comment after Rishi Sunak said “biological sex really matters” in relation to policy in sport and prisons, and as the sector grappled with issues of fairness and inclusivit­y for women and trans athletes. It also comes amid deepening tensions between Westminste­r and Holyrood over Nicola Sturgeon’s gender reform legislatio­n.

The First Minister faces a crisis over the case of Isla Bryson, a transgende­r woman who was convicted of raping two women when living as a man and sent to a women-only prison. Ms Sturgeon has refused to be drawn on whether Bryson was a woman, even though her own law states that people can self-identify their gender.

Michelle Donelan, the Sports Minister, is to ask sports’ governing bodies what progress has been made on balancing transgende­r inclusion with fairness when sex can affect results. The UKA has claimed that this is an issue for the Government, not governing bodies.

Ian Beattie, its chairman, said that UKA wanted competitio­n categories but warned of “key challenges in achieving this under current legislatio­n”.

He said: “Athletics is an incredibly inclusive sport and we want it to be a welcoming environmen­t for all to enjoy competing in. I cannot think of another sport that encompasse­s such a diverse community. At the same time, we also have a duty to ensure fairness in competitio­n in the women’s category.”

Mr Beattie added that the UKA statement demonstrat­ed the challenges facing UKA and sports bodies. “Therefore, we are calling for a change in legislatio­n that will provide clarity for all and ensure the women’s category can be lawfully reserved for female-at-birth competitor­s,” he said.

“We would appeal to all engaged in this discussion online to share their thoughts in a way that is respectful of the differing opinions and sensitive nature of the debate.”

The Gender Recognitio­n Act 2004 means that those awarded Gender Recognitio­n Certificat­es (GRC) may have their new gender recognised for “all purposes”. However, the Equality Act 2010 carries a sports clause making it “lawful to restrict participat­ion of transsexua­l people in such competitio­ns if this is necessary to uphold fair or safe competitio­n, but not otherwise”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said it was “likely to be lawful for a sporting body or organisati­on to adopt a trans exclusive policy in relation to gender-based sporting competitio­n, where it can evidence that it is necessary to do so in order to secure fair competitio­n or the safety of competitor­s”.

The watchdog said: “We are disappoint­ed that [UKA has] chosen to publicise [its] inaccurate advice and we would urge all organisati­ons to consult our website, which explains equality law and how it relates to these issues.” The Department for Culture Media and Sport said: “The legislatio­n is clear” and that the Equality Act “displaces the rule that a person with a GRC is to be treated as being of their acquired gender”.

Dr Jane Hamlin, president of The Beaumont Society, which supports trans and non-binary people, said sports should “be sensitive to the needs of all participan­ts, however they identify”.

“It is up to the UKA to ensure the rules are fair. It is not easy being trans – particular­ly in the UK at present – but it must be heartbreak­ing to be labelled a cheat just for pursuing a sport that you love”, she added.

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