UN experts say that the exclusion of trans and intersex women from women’s sports is a violation of human rights
A group of UN experts has expressed “grave concern” about the structural barriers that hinder participation in sports for women and girls, LGBT, gender-diverse persons, and intersex individuals.
The experts on Tuesday issued a policy position urging States to tackle discrimination against, and enforcement of equal treatment of all athletes, especially women and girls in all their diversity, and LGBT and intersex persons.
Persistent Inequalities Restricting Access
Inequalities, the experts said, continue to limit access to sports for these diverse communities, encompassing obstacles in accessing sports facilities, training, and programs.
Discrimination also perpetuates the exclusion of these groups, facilitated by stereotypes and incidents of bullying and harassment. Examples include gender and body stereotypes, as well as harmful behaviours like homophobic chanting at sports events and online harassment.
The UN experts represent areas including cultural rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, discrimination against women and girls, and the right to physical and mental health.
Exclusion of Trans and Intersex Individuals
Of particular concern, wrote the experts, is the misuse of gender categorisations in sports to advocate for the exclusion of trans women and women with intersex traits from female categories. This has led to the adoption of restrictive legal measures and public policies, often fueled by divisive debates.
“Categoric exclusions of trans and intersex women from women’s sports is a prima facie violation of human rights obligations under the principle of non-discrimination, and their right to privacy,” the experts said.
“We are also deeply worried by the accompanying, oftentimes offensive, and even hateful targeting of trans and intersex persons in social media and public discourse, especially as it links to their sense of self and bodily autonomy, as those actions impact their physical and mental integrity.”
While fairness is integral to sports, recognising the diversity of human bodies is essential to preserve and promote fairness in every discipline, said the experts.
Harnessing the Power of Sport for Change
The experts asserted that States and sports organisations must uphold fairness in competition by considering factors protected under international human rights law, such as sex characteristics, sexual orientation, and gender identity. They should also employ human rights-based approaches when evaluating bids for countries seeking to host major sporting events.
“We are convinced that sports have the power to change perceptions, prejudices, and behaviours: it must not be used to reinforce them,” the experts said.
“We, therefore, urge sporting bodies at the elite level to consider the implications of their decisions not only for LGBT and intersex athletes but, equally importantly, the impact that those decisions will have on LGBT and intersex persons participating in sports at all levels, as well as general social perceptions, and on the ideal of inclusive sport.”
The experts argue that sport has the potential to bring people together in all their diversity and, at its best, it can be promoted as a universal language that contributes to educating people on the values of respect, diversity, tolerance, and fairness, combat all forms of discrimination and promote social inclusion for all.