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Trans people in the sporting community

This blog explains the need for trans inclusion in sport. It explores the barriers that trans and LGBTQ+ communities face in sport and outlines actions you can take to overcome them.

Sporting environments are often praised for bringing communities together, to celebrate in victory and defeat. Despite the sense of community and belonging that can be found, trans inclusion in sport is a divisive subject. Transgender athletes can be marginalised. Sport presents a wonderful opportunity to welcome and include all marginalised groups, and in the process including safety, equity and inclusion for all.

The importance of trans inclusion

Trans inclusion is about prioritising the experience of trans people in your sporting environment. When you create trans inclusive sports organisations and teams you will improve.

Challenges that the trans community face in sport

The debate about the trans+ community in sport is ongoing, and those within it continue to experience a particularly challenging time.

Examples include:

Gender inequality in sport

There is already an imbalance between cisgender participation across different sports. The sporting world is often seen as a “man’s world”.

Women have had to fight for space and recognition in the sports industry, while men have always received more prize money. BBC Sport started researching this difference in pay in 2014. When they updated the research in 2021 the gap in pay had reduced, but it still exists.

The research also highlights how low some women in sport can be paid. In 2024, four in 10 elite female athletes confirmed they are paid less than £10,000. 

Historically, there has been more encouragement for boys to get involved in sports from a young age. The media industry has also focused more on men’s sport than women’s. Research in 2022 highlighted an increase in coverage of women’s sport it was still very low, at 15% of all reporting.

As this research highlights gender equality in sport is still a significant challenge. What does this teach us about the opportunities, or lack of, for trans inclusion in sport?

Gender exclusion in sport

There is a lack of equality between the male/female binary.  Now imagine that you’re a trans athlete. You’re an individual with a genuine interest, passion, and talent.  You want to participate and compete. But you’re being excluded based on something that is intrinsically you; your gender identity.

LGBTQ+ and trans exclusion in sport

Transphobia, homophobia and biphobia are rife in sport. Research by Out on the Fields in 2015 and 2019 had these findings:

  • 78% of respondents believe an openly gay person would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event.
  • 73% believe youth team sport is not safe for gay people.
  • 80% of respondents believe gay people are “not at all accepted” or “accepted a little” or “moderately accepted” in sporting culture.

A survey by Pride Sports, highlighted places that trans people avoid for ‘fear of being harassed, being read as non-binary or being outed (people find out you’re non-binary?):

  • Gyms, 42.2%.
  • Clubs or social groups, 39%.
  • Public spaces, e.g. parks, 16.9%.

There are many consequences for individuals who don’t feel safe to be in spaces designed for sport and exercise. Research conducted by the National LGBT Partnership highlights the impact on health:

  • 56% LGBT+ women were not active enough to maintain good health, compared to 45% women in the heterosexual population.
  • The same statistic for men was 55% of LGBT men compared to 33% heterosexual men.
  • 64% of LGBT people who identified as something other than male or female (e.g. genderfluid or genderqueer) were not active enough to maintain good health.

This research highlights the need to prioritise LGBTQ+ and trans inclusion in sport.

Understanding transgender participation in sport

Organisations in the sporting sector are under increasing pressure to take a stance on the involvement of trans people in sport, women in particular.  Transgender people, of any gender, make up a tiny proportion (estimated to be around 1%) of sports people. Yet the campaigning and attention that trans inclusion in sport receives is disproportionate and very often focused towards the participation of transwomen and not transmen.

When people want to talk about trans inclusion in sport, they rarely:

  1. Consider that transgender sports research is in its infancy (especially for elite competitors). There is little peer-reviewed research to compare the participation of trans women and cis women in sport, and the research is still under scrutiny by many.
  2. There are so many variables that can impact performance-sport, such as if the athlete got enough sleep, how stressed are they, are they menopausal/andropausal, their past injury record? The list goes on.
  3. Include trans+ people in their conversations, which is a difficulty in itself when it is estimated that trans+ people make up just 2% of the population.

These conversations are usually dominated by sweeping generalisations about athletes’ performance, gender and often perpetuate negative stereotypes of trans+ people. These conversations rarely ask questions about making fair and inclusive decisions, for example “what more can be done to ensure the trans+ community feel included within sport?”

“Do your best to support any individuals that choose to transition or come out while they are part of your team or club, in whatever capacity they are involved.”

Swim coach and swimmer chatting to each each other next to a pool

What can we do to include the trans+ community in sport?

Participation

Trans men are men, and trans women are women. Then there are those individuals who identify outside the gender binary. Everyone should be encouraged to play the sports they choose. The statistics highlighted  earlier show how challenging it is for the trans+ community to participate in sports and activity, and the impact this can have on  physical and mental health.. Think about your sport, your team, and what opportunities you can create to make it more inclusive for everyone.

Sportswear

Quite often, sportswear is gender specific. Consider the sportswear/uniform that your team wears; does it really need to be gender specific? What purpose does this serve? Can people play in what they feel most comfortable as long as this does not have any consequences for the performance or safety of anyone involved.

Transitioning

Do your best to support any individuals that choose to transition or come out while they are part of your team or club, in whatever capacity they are involved. Whether as a volunteer, athlete, spectator, or part of the support team.

Ask them what they need to feel most supported. Place the individual at the centre of the support that you can provide, rather than make assumptions. If there are eligibility regulations to consider within your sport, have this conversation with the individual first. You can then decide together how they would like to move forward.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Just like in the workplace, if you know somebody identifies as trans+, this should be kept confidential. Nothing can be more excluding than being outed when you do not want others to know or are not ready to share. Being outed can lead to further harassment and discrimination which you are legally obliged to protect against.

Challenging transphobia

It is vital that any transphobia, biphobia and homophobia is challenged in the first instance, and not accepted by the club, coach, or teammates at any point. Bullying, harassment and discrimination in any form is unacceptable and  needs to be dealt with appropriately.  Follow formal grievance procedures where necessary. You should outline this process clearly within your policies.

Gendered Teams

Consider whether the sport needs to be split by gender? What are the reasons for this?  Could you offer mix-gender training sessions instead and create teams based on ability, rather than gender? Can any elements of the game be adapted to become more inclusive of all genders (tag rugby for example)?

Just as there is space for LGB+ clubs and communities, could trans+ individuals take part in sport with those from the LGBTQ+ community? These sporting teams can often provide a safe space as well as being another mechanism of support for those from within the community.

Representation and Visibility

Seek out trans+ role models and trans athletes to learn about the  positive contributions they have to the sporting world. If you know someone who is trans+ playing sport, they can be a real advocate for the younger generation. They can also help to challenge any myths or misconceptions of trans+ people in sport. Of course, their psychological safety is the priority, and it should not always be down to the individual from the underrepresented community to educate others.

Changing Rooms / Facilities

Making changing rooms gender neutral or having gender neutral spaces can help individuals in the trans+ community feel safer and more included. If you already have this option available at your club remember to promote it so everyone is aware of this asset.

Language

Registrations

Make sure your membership forms and other ways to gather data uses gender-neutral terminology and are inclusive of all genders. This may be the first interaction individuals from the trans+ community have with the club and it will demonstrate that you understand gender inclusion.

Names / Pronouns

Encourage all individuals in your sporting community to share their pronouns. This should not be mandatory, but helps to promote a feeling of inclusion for those within the trans community.

Promote teammates to use the correct names and pronouns of those from within the team. You can read more about the benefits of sharing pronouns here.

Communications

Internal and external communications should include all genders and promote gender positivity and inclusivity. It’s important to consider this in imagery, written, audio, and video materials, including online and offline content.

On-the-pitch training

Language is important on the pitch too. The use of gender-neutral language such as “go team” rather than “let’s go girls/boys” can help foster a more inclusive environment for those who identify as trans+. Fostering an inclusive environment for the team on the pitch is vital. The language and behaviour displayed by all sport participants and professionals has an influence on this.

Off-the-pitch training

Paying for further education and learning around LGBTQ+ topics for teammates can hugely benefit everybody. Use awareness days and months, Pride Month for example, to kickstart or amplify conversations for LGBTQ+ teammates, and show solidarity for the community. Offer training to sports coaches, referees and captains so they can learn and understand how to behave inclusively.

How to embed trans inclusion in your sports organisation?

If this article resonates with you and you are motivated to take steps to promote trans inclusion in your sports organisation, Inclusive Sport is here to support you. Take a look at our upcoming webinars and in-house training opportunities, or get in touch using the form below.

If you’re already an Inclusive Sport member, please chat with your account manager about any questions this article has raised for you.


Grow your team

When you become an Inclusive Employers’ Member you grow your I&D team.

Your account manager works with you to understand your goals, your challenges and achievable next steps.

Do you need more support for your inclusive culture to thrive?

Learn about membership today

Upcoming webinars – Members receive 5 free place on each and every webinar