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Sportswomen don’t need ‘saving’, but their right to safe and meaningful competition certainly does

Alice Soper (Why sportswomen don’t need ‘saving’ from transgender athletes, 25 August) and Save Women’s Sport Australasia agree on many important things. That participation in sport is the beginning, not the apex for many athletes. And that women are fiercely competitive.

We also agree that years of under investment in women’s sports, misguided policy, people learning on the job, decisions being made by people with no lived experience, sexual harassment and bullying, and pay disparities have roots in sociology. Or more specifically, sexism.

Finally, Alice is absolutely right when she says that sportswomen are not damsels in distress in need of “saving”. I come from a sports mad family of high performing athletes. Within our whanau we have those who have represented New Zealand in multiple sports on the international stage and at Olympic level, as well as those who channel their competitive spirit into community level sport. Our sportswomen are strong, competitive, smart, and dedicated.

Their participation and success is only possible because of the existence of the female category. A category that allows them to participate in fair and meaningful competition against other women. And, when it comes to contact or combat sports, one that also protects them from the increased risk of harm that competing against a male-bodied athlete could result in.

If it was not for the existence of, and the protection of, women’s sporting categories we would have no female medalists or even contenders on the international stage in any sport where strength, speed or stamina matters. New Zealanders would have never heard the names of athletes like Alison Roe, Susan Devoy, Sophie Pascoe, and Lisa Carrington. As much as some people may wish to deny reality, biology and physiology matters because we play sports with our bodies, not our identities.

Ms. Soper appears to be comfortable with the loss of meaningful and fair competition for women and increased risk of injury in some sports by the inclusion of male-bodied people, as is her right.

However, many people do not share her views. Save Womens’ Sports Australasia had heard from female athletes and the parents of girls across New Zealand who have been impacted by the inclusion of male transgender people in their sports category. They have included cricketeers, roller derby players, netballers, hockey players, weight lifters, and mountain bikers, among others. They have shared stories of how they have been injured and given up sports that they love. They have told how they have been ostracized by people they have previously considered to be friends and dismissed by their sporting organisations when they raise concerns.

This never happens, people like Alice Soper tells us. Except it does, and it is growing as more sports organizations fall into line with Sport New Zealand’s relentless insistence that the inclusion of male people who identify as women is more important than fairness to, and the safety of, female players.

These are the words of one woman who contacted us, “During one training, I was elbowed sharply in the stomach, knocking the wind from me, and on another occasion was held and shoved with such excessive force that I had a panic attack. All aspects of my physical and mental safety were ignored… I never felt comfortable again and subsequently felt that I had little choice but to leave the sport which I had loved for the previous eight years.”

As another example, right now in a community cycling club in New Zealand there is a male transgender cyclist who holds the award for both best female cyclist of the season as well as best overall cyclist. Why? Because this cyclist not only cleaned out the women’s field, posting times so fast that no female had a chance of competing for first, but on some occasions even beat the fastest male in an event.

This is what kindness and inclusion now looks like. Female athletes being forced out of sports that they love and out of their rightful placings and recognition because including males in their category is considered to be a higher priority.

Sportswomen don’t need saving, but their category certainly does.

Rowena Edge, spokeswoman, Save Womens Sport Australasia



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