With international transgender athletes the current focus of protests by some female competitors, who are calling for a levelling of the playing field, it is likely that the W-League and FFA will at some stage come face to face with that dilemma.
Domestically, we have already seen the complexities of the issue, with Victorian transgender AFL player Hannah Mouncey denied entry into the 2018 AFLW pre-season draft. Mouncey was deemed eligible to play at state level but not in the highest tier of the game, where one would have thought that the competition was more able to combat her size and strength.
The decision of the powers at be was to stand and Mouncey’s AFLW career remains stalled indefinitely, despite many claiming that the real issues behind such matters are in fact human rights based and not merely an example of discriminatory exclusion.
To suggest there is a simplistic solution to the registration of a transgender athlete into a women’s competition is folly. However, should the FFA sit on its hands and not prepare for the inevitable, it will only be seen in the long term to have been reactionary.
I had the privilege of meeting a young transgender woman from Sydney’s west last Monday to discuss her football journey. In respect to her and according to the conditions she set out quite clearly in agreeing to meet, her identity will be protected throughout this article.
Perhaps that wish on her behalf says all there is to say about the modern challenge of being a transgender athlete and desperately wanting to continue to compete without drawing the judgemental eyes of many.
The young woman seemed powerful, courageous, intelligent and confident as we sat discreetly in a small café within a large shopping complex. No one would have noticed us, her appearance obviously feminine and mine not noteworthy.
She spoke of having played football quite successfully as a young boy and then feeling as though she was required to slip from the face of the earth, as she undertook the transformation from male to female.
Previous team mates, coaches and other parents consistently inquired why a young boy had thrown away his enjoyment of the game and would no longer be competing in junior competition. The player felt she was living a lie within her own skin and now, more lies were required. A rumour was circulated that her interest in the game had waned at the expense of another sport.
Nothing could in fact have been further from the truth. Her passion for football burned as strongly as ever and after 18 months, a new name and a more supportive school environment, the complete social and physical transformation was complete.
Depression and isolation became contentedness and connectedness, fear turned to freedom. Yet sadly, football remained absent.
Sporting governing bodies all around the world have been quick to formulate policies of inclusion.
Those policies are somewhat universal and protect the rights of all wishing to compete. Whether it be religion, race, sexuality, gender, ability, age or nationality, Australian football promotes its policy of inclusion consistently and well.
That policy is entitled the National Member Protection Policy (June 2016). It is a well-crafted document that categorically states in Section 5.6 under the sub-heading Gender that,
“FFA will not tolerate any unlawful discrimination or harassment of a person because of their Gender identity. This includes Discrimination or Harassment of a person who is transgender or transsexual or who is assumed to be transgender or transsexual or has an association with someone who has or is assumed to be transgender or transsexual.”
It is an undeniable affirmation of the policies of inclusion that Australian football wishes to espouse; stating that all are welcome to the game and should participate without fear of harassment or discrimination.
The question then becomes whether the decision to reject an application from a transgender athlete wishing to compete at the highest level of football in Australia is discriminatory or not. Far greater legal minds than mine will ultimately make that decision, as they did in Mouncey’s case, however, with football a far less physical activity and more a game of subtlety and skill, the FFA would do well to prepare for the inevitable transgender application to compete.
My Monday coffee companion wishes to play football again yet lives in fear of taking on the process of applying to alter her sex on official documents. That process varies greatly from state to state and usually involves rather humiliating examinations by medical practitioners and subsequent supporting documents.
Surgery, hormones and other treatments all play a role in informing the legal determination of a person’s sex and transgender athletes cannot be pooled into one strict group or definition.
For this young athlete, it all seems a little daunting and intimidating. Her story is no doubt a common one, that I hope others reading can use as a source of comfort and support in their own journey. Hopefully she will soon be on the pitch and playing the game she loves.
FFA should prepare itself for the applications of transgender athletes wishing to play in the W-League and soon. Transgender footballer Mara Gomez is currently awaiting a decision from the Argentine Football Federation and hoping to play for Villa San Marcos in the nation’s top league.
For the W-League, it is a matter of when and not if.