Time to take the issue of inclusion in sports seriously

Many parts of the sports movement are a stumbling block for the work for full inclusion and equality. In order to reach the global development goals, the discrimination of trans people within sports has to be stopped.

July 30 2019

This year’s theme of Stockholm Pride is We are needed. We have struggled, questioned and loved for the rights that LGBTQI people have today, but we’re not done yet. During the past year, issues about gender and exclusion have been addressed in many places in Swedish sports.

Football playing Julle, 11 years old, told his story about having been excluded from his football team because of his gender identity in the television program Kalla fakta. Noel Filén Hammarström has been fighting for the right to keep playing basketball, and handball player Loui Sand broke his career and came out as a trans person. Leon Reuterström, goalkeeper in the women’s premier hockey league, was forced to leave his trapper on the shelf. At the same time, the case of South African runner Caster Semenya has attracted the attention of the entire world, and the issue of gender in sports has found its way to the UN and become a human rights issue.

Agenda 2030 determines that all people should have the opportunity to live their lives to the fullest and be able to take advantage of their full capacity. All countries in the world have agreed that no one should be left behind and that efforts directed at those farthest behind should be prioritised.

Good health is a basic precondition for people’s ability to reach their full potential and contribute to societal development. The possibility of being active in sports obviously affects people’s health. We know that exercise and sports improve physical as well as mental health, which in turn leads to better results at school, better results in the working life, a higher income, and a more independent life. It also affects people’s capacity to interact with society, for example through playing sports or as a trainer.

Though we know of all the benefits of doing sports there’s a group of people that is left out in the cold time again. We agree that society should remove the obstacles that exist and make sure that as many people as possible are able to get moving and to be involved in the sports movement. At the same time as Sweden in many ways is a forerunner when it comes to LGBTQI people’s rights, gender equality and inclusion, the way that trans issues are being addressed in our sports movement is nothing short of disastrous.

We know that trans people as a group have lower incomes, an increased risk of unemployment, sick leave and mental ill-health. We know that trans people are more sedentary compared to the population in general. Every fourth trans person is dissatisfied with their physical health, and every third with their mental health. The percentage of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts is also alarmingly high compared to the rest of the population.

At the same time as we have all this knowledge and information, which should form the base of new strategies and visions about a sports movement for everybody, athletes with trans experience are effectively excluded from Swedish sports because of a dated view on gender and fuzzy regulations. There’s every possibility of creating new rules that clarify what measures should be taken if someone should undergo, for example, hormone treatment. It’s also possible to review the uncompromising gender segregation in nearly all sports. Is it motivated? What can be done to open up for more bodies and more experiences in sports? What can be done to increase diversity? These questions aren’t asked nearly as often as they should be, if at all, but that need to be asked in order for Sweden to be able to reach its goal of health equality and meet the demands we have helped formulate in Agenda 2030.

Trans people’s opportunity of participating in sports is a question of human rights. RFSL believes that everybody who works with public health has to take responsibility for the issue. That includes municipalities, authorities, and not least, the Swedish sports movement.

Sandra Ehne, president of RFSL
Mathilda Piehl, advisor sports and project Manager RFSL
Alice Armandsson, project co-worker RFSL in the project Sports for all bodies
Vix Viktoria Herjeryd, president of Stockholm Pride
Lukas Svärd, role model for athletes with trans experience and triathlete
Petra Douhane, parent of a child with trans experience
Noel Andersson Köhler, role model for athletes with trans experience and roller derby player
Devine Österman, role model for athletes with trans experience and practitioner of martial arts

The opinion article was published in QX July 30 2019