Transgenderism in sport: an unfair advantage or the right thing to do?

In March 2023, World Athletics banned transgender women from athletics events, putting trans women in the shadows of athletics and creating another stumbling block for South African hero and double Olympic gold medalist Caster Semenya, who is now 32 years old. where we play at the elite level, what does it mean at the university level?

How do we embrace transgenderism in sport to ensure equitable access to sporting opportunities, provide support and embrace initiatives towards a dynamic and inclusive student-centred environment, was a topic discussed by panelists at the National Association for Student Development Professionals (Nasdev) which lasted for three days. ) Women in Leadership Conference with the theme “Achieving Gender Parity – Include, Enrich, Innovate”.

“The world is changing,” Cecilia ‘Coach’ Molokwane, president of Netball SA, said on the podium after South Africa hosted the Netball World Cup and placed sixth against the best in the world. “When we grew up, netball was for girls, soccer and rugby were for boys. Now girls can play soccer, and boys can play netball. Opening the door to transgender sportsmen is just another challenge, and when there is a challenge, there is always a solution.”

In the recent 2023 Netball World Cup, team Canada, with little fuss, entered star quarterback Quinn, an openly transgender athlete who dropped their first name after leaving as nonbinary in September 2020. That same month, World Aquatics announced the category is open to athletes whose gender is different at birth, a compromise on the 2022 ban.

“Yes, the wheels of society are turning, but they are turning very slowly.”

“Yes, the wheels in society are turning, but they are turning very slowly,” said Nomsa Mahlangu, president of University Sports SA (USSA) and senior director of sports at the University of Johannesburg. A trailblazer, she was the first woman to serve as president of the USSA, and the first woman to be democratically elected to the Soccer Association of SA, an arena traditionally dominated by men.

“By hosting this event, we are creating an opportunity to amplify women’s voices, and provide a platform to address issues faced by women as a whole, something which is just the thing during Women’s Month,” said Pura Mgolombane, executive director of Student Affairs at UCT. “Through this conference, we intend to raise these issues, and their impact on women, with a purpose [of] together to create suitable and liberating solutions.”

Sport is about access, enjoyment and equality

It is important to understand the environment in which the discussion takes place. Sport is governed by federations – international and national federations – with which the USSA is affiliated and regulated, Mahlangu emphasized.

Policy is still unclear. “SASCOC [SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee] there is currently no comprehensive policy, or clear guidelines, regarding the participation of transgender athletes in sport in South Africa,” said Mark Bashe, manager of Sports and Recreation at UCT’s Department of Student Affairs.

“As a result, all the sports federations in our country are in a dilemma, trying to strike a balance between encouraging the inclusion of transgender athletes, while respecting the boundaries of their mandate. The resolution of this issue awaits global consensus and directives from international sports federations before it can be implemented effectively in South African universities, as overseen by USSA.”

Mahlangu added: “Federation may mean there are limits to what we can do, but that doesn’t stop us on an individual sporting level. Sport is about access, enjoyment [and] equity. We need to have policies that accommodate all students, regardless of race or gender. It is important for our institutions to be inclusive.”

He added, at USSA, most of the students were accommodated. If the student identifies as “she,” and the institution has registered her as “she,” a trans woman can participate.

The transgender community needs to help us drive change

“Where is the transgender community?” asked Molokwane. “When you work with me, then I understand what needs to be done. If we can transform netball from an all-female sport into an up-and-coming men’s championship team that we’re bringing to international play. [competition] for the first time last year, we were able to work together to make this happen.”

Molokwane adds that acceptance begins at home, and old ideas held by parents of his generation no longer apply in today’s world.

“In a significant historic breakthrough, we have our first ever transgender athlete at the Netball World Cup. We do need to sit on the board to discuss it, but it’s not a matter to be surprised about. Netball is here to take on everyone, so let’s work towards equality.”

“It started by making noise, and we, as leaders and people in power, have to take action to do things in our own interest.”

The message is that no one body, or individual, can bring about change. South Africans, whether transgender or not, must challenge discriminatory policies issued by bodies such as the Olympic and Commonwealth committees, as well as world athletics and other sports bodies.

“Sports SA, or athletes like Caster, can’t do it alone. Look at Caster, he may win at the human rights level, but he is an athlete and he still wants to compete, to break records. It started by making noise, and we, as leaders and people in power, have to take action to do things in our own interest.”

Mahlangu also called on the transgender community to take a leadership position to help bring about change from within.

“You as students need to be actively involved. As a university, let’s have an internal league where teams only play at the college level for fun.”

Traditional biases in sports and the power to change the status quo

Not that change is easy. Gender bias, and bias against big male sport in terms of resources, salaries, and attendance, needs to be consciously changed.

For example, Mahlangu cited the sports scholarships available at UJ when he first arrived at UJ, which were preferred by rugby, rowing and track and field stars.

“People hate me taking money out of big rugby matches, but a sporting code of conduct is a sporting code, and a woman who plays three times a week is just as valuable.

“When you get to the table where decisions are made, there are fewer women. Wherever I go, I advocate inclusivity, and not just for men and women, but for everyone regardless of who you are.

“Shine wherever you are.”

“Shine the light wherever you are,” concluded Mahlangu.

Thanks to those who have provided enlightenment, the extraordinarily talented player of the South African women’s football team, Banyana Banyana, is now paid the same performance fee as the men’s Bafana team.

“When I came to netball, I knew I had to be the change I wanted to see when I was a player, and I made sure our nationals got paid every month. Go and challenge management,” Molokwane agreed.

“The more times you knock on the door, the more you are heard. After all, if humans can make policies, then humans can also change policies. you SRC [Students’ Representative Council] members, how many of you have looked at your policy for the LGBTQIA+ community or people with disabilities to see if it needs updating?

“Try and fail, but never fail in trying.”

Hadwin Floyd

"Coffee enthusiast. Hipster-friendly social media fanatic. Certified zombie expert. Problem solver."

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