Gender recognition reform could be 'devastating' for women's sport

Former Team GB marathon runner Mara Yamauchi insists gender recognition reform could have a ‘DEVASTATING’ impact on women’s sport and warns athletes will quit ‘in droves’ because of it

  • A new Gender Recognition Reform Bill is currently being debated in Scotland
  • If passed, it would make it easier for people to change their sex without evidence
  • This could make it easier for biological males to compete in female sport events
  • Mara Yamauchi fears this may dissuade some female athletes from competing
  • Marathon runner Mara Yamauchi competed for Team GB in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics

    Marathon runner Mara Yamauchi competed for Team GB in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics 

    An Olympic athlete has warned that gender recognition reform could have a ‘devastating’ impact on women’s sport in Scotland and prompt female competitors to quit ‘in their droves.’

    Marathon runner Mara Yamauchi, who competed for Team GB in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, fears that the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill — which aims to make it quicker and easier for individuals to change sex with no requirement for medical reports or evidence — will render it impossible to maintain single-sex sports categories.

    On Tuesday, Holyrood’s human rights and civil justice committee heard two senior male executives of sports organisations funded or part-funded by the Scottish Government argue that the bill would not significantly impact on sport.

    Yamauchi said she would be willing to testify to the committee that the bill would make women’s sport unfair, unsafe and unattractive to competitors.

    ‘These changes will make it impossible for sports authorities to enforce single sex sports,’ she told Sportsmail.

    ‘If this bill passes, people will be entitled to change their legal sex by self-declaration. A biological male might turn up at a sports club demanding to participate in female sport and, if challenged, could show a birth certificate that says female on it so that it becomes impossible for sports bodies — bearing in mind that many of the people involved are volunteers — to enforce sports categories by birth sex.

    ‘And because it will become easier for people to change their sex legally, I think it’s reasonable to imagine that the numbers of males demanding inclusion participating in the female category will increase.

    ‘If they accept that a Scottish GRC (gender recognition certificate) is valid in the rest of the UK, then the situation I have described could unfold across the UK. We could have many more males identifying as women and expecting to participate in the female category of sport.

    ‘More and more sports bodies will face the challenge of trying to enforce single-sex sport. That will be impossible.’

    Sixth in the 2008 Beijing Olympic marathon, Yamauchi combined running with a career as a diplomat with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

    Yamauchi (left) fears the bill could dissuade some biologically female athletes from competing

    Yamauchi (left) fears the bill could dissuade some biologically female athletes from competing

    The issue of transgender athletes crossed to the mainstream when trans swimmer Lia Thomas broke numerous records in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) championships in Atlanta.

    Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges has been prevented from competing in the female category after guidance from the Sports Council Equality Group (SCEG) advised that ‘for many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model’.

    Yamauchi said: ‘It really is devastating for women’s sport. Every male who competes in the female category potentially affects thousands of female athletes.

    ‘I did a list of the exclusions that occurred when Lia Thomas swam in three events in the Ivy League championships and won them all. They included three women who finished second instead of first, three who finished third instead of second, three who missed out on the medal podium altogether, the women who finished ninth in the heats and missed out on the A final, women who finished 17th in the heats excluded from the B final and so on.

    ‘Many young girls will be thinking: “Blimey, is this coming to my club? What’s the point of me training if it is?”

    ‘I personally know of cases of females being excluded from medals because of this competing in the female category. A group of females right now are self-excluding from competitions and considering self-excluding from their sport altogether because of a male in their local area. I am quite certain this is putting a lot of females off and they will just leave sport in droves.’

    Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas won three events at the recent Ivy League championships

    Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas won three events at the recent Ivy League championships

    Malcolm Dingwall-Smith, a senior manager with sportscotland, and Hugh Torrance, executive director at LEAP (Leadership, Equality and Active Participation) Sports Scotland, gave evidence at Holyrood on Tuesday on transgender inclusion in sport.

    London-based Yamauchi, who was irked by what she insisted was a lack of a counter-argument, said: ‘It’s essential to make the point — and this is critical — that people like myself are absolutely not calling for trans people to be banned from sport.

    ‘We athletes all know the mental and physical benefits of sport and, through our work, we encourage everybody to be in sport — but this is a question of categories.

    ‘My view is that people who are born male must compete in the male category. If they go in the female category that is unfair and unsafe for female athletes.’

    Emily Bridges has been banned from competing as a female because she is transgender

    Emily Bridges has been banned from competing as a female because she is transgender