What are the rules for trans athletes in football?

All the latest information about rules regarding transgender athletes in sport, including how the FA accommodates trans men and women in the sport

Participation of trans athletes in gender-based sport remains a controversial issue, with factors such as higher testosterone levels as well as physiological aspects such as height and weight needing to be taken into account in order to ensure fair competition.

This doesn’t touch the personal issues that trans athletes are made to deal with following their gender reassignment, with transgender people already facing dramatically increased amounts of discrimination and abuse compared to cisgender individuals.

So what are the rules regarding trans athletes in football, and how does the FA deal with trans athletes? Goal takes a look.

What is a trans athlete?

A transgender person is a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex .

The opposite of transgender is cisgender, someone whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. A cisgender man is a man who is born biologically as a male and continues to identify as male; same for a cisgender (or ‘cis’) female.

Transgender people undergo gender reassignment in order to feel comfortable within their external and personal appearance. Some might also experience gender dysphoria, which causes them to pursue hormone therapy or medical reassignment.

A transgender person also does not have to experience medical treatment in order to be considered trans. Gender reassignment, which is the process of distancing yourself from your assigned birth gender and moving to a preferred one, is first and foremostly a personal choice that does not have to be validated physiologically or biologically.

Those who identify as transgender might also not have the financial means to afford medical re-assignment or hormone therapy, or feel that society will make them feel ostracised for doing so.

The confidentiality of a trans person’s gender reassignment in the UK is also protected under the Gender Recognition Act 2004.

What are the FA’s rules on gender in football?

The FA has set rules on gender in football for athletes until the age of 16.

Based on research, there is minimal difference in male and female physical strength in the stages that precede puberty. And so, mixed football under the FA is allowed up until the Under-16 age group.

Under-7s to Under-16s are allowed to play in either boys’ or girls’ teams, regardless of their birth or affirmed sex.

From age 16 and above, however, the boys’ and girls’ teams are separated under FA ruling due to hormonal and physiological changes caused by puberty. These changes, according to the FA, “may bring on safety issues that are brought on by a general distinction between males and females in sport due to differing muscle strength caused by testosterone.”

Cis male athletes are at a biological physical advantage compared to their cis female counterparts.

The FA states: “Due potentially to difference between the sexes, and the fact that oestrogen and testosterone which is often taken as part of an individual’s gender reassignment, can also have physical effects which may lead to competitive advantage.”

It implements these policies to “ensure fair play and competition for those on the field”.

What are the FA’s rules on trans athletes, and how do they determine which gender a trans athlete competes in?

The FA states that any players above the U-16 age range must be of the same gender, but this general rule does not specify whether it applies to a person’s birth sex or their affirmed sex. However, they iterate the notion that “gender identity should not be a barrier to participation in football”.

When it comes to specifically trans players wishing to play in their affirmed sex, they have stated that they will consider applications for clearance on a case-by-case basis .

The FA considers individual trans players who have undergone hormone therapy based on passing specific hormone-based requirements, whose exact details are not currently publicly available.

It is understood, though, that the FA does maintain rules regarding hormone levels, as do other international sporting competitions. 

For trans male and trans female athletes who have undergone or are in the process of undergoing medical treatment, evidence such as medical information and records, blood testosterone and hormone treatment are considered for individual review.

 

Their policy on trans people in football document confirms that for trans males who have gone hormone therapy, results in blood testosterone levels are considered within natal male range, while for trans females, results in blood testosterone are reviewed within natal female range.

The AFL (Australian Football League), for instance, have requirements trans women need to follow if they aim to play in the AFLW (Australia Football League Women’s).

This includes keeping testosterone levels at a certain point for two years , in addition to trans women undergoing examinations that will decide whether if they stand at a physical advantage over cis athletes.

For transsexuals who have not undergone hormone therapy, they will also have their application considered individually based on safety and fair competition by the FA.

Trans athletes who wish to play in their affirmed gender must provide applications to the FA’s Equality Manager.

Full information on the process is available in detail here .

Would trans female athletes have an advantage?

The main issue, according to FA, regarding trans athletes is if their hormone levels would potentially put them at an advantage of disadvantage in their team. Their argument is that, for example, a transgender woman with higher testosterone levels would have a physical advantage.

Footballer Blair Hamilton, who plays for Stonehaven Ladies in Scotland and has been undergoing hormone therapy, disagrees with this notion and has stressed that trans athletes do not have an advantage following medical reassignment.

“They need to look at the science, what it actually does to your body,” she told the BBC .

“It does take away your muscle mass, your explosiveness. Your ratios from type-one to type-two fast-twitch fibres change – your body completely changes. I don’t think they realise how much of a change hormone therapy makes.

“There is absolutely no advantage on the pitch.”

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