Open Letter to Sport Ireland

Open Letter to Sport Ireland

Dear Dr Una May – Chief Executive of Sport Ireland

We are writing to you to share our anxiety around the growing exclusionary narrative around trans people’s participation in sport, and particularly in regards to trans women and girls.

Sport and physical activity benefits every individual in Ireland and as a principle, our approach should be to try to ensure everyone is able to participate freely and openly as themselves without fear or prejudice. Sadly, we recognise that trans & non-binary people are often already more marginalised and less likely to participate in sport due to historic and more current barriers.

While we believe that all sports at all levels should be inclusive and fair, we are particularly concerned about how discussions regarding the assessment of high performance athletes, and the narrow margins of success that exist at national and international competition level, is influencing policy and guidance that excludes trans women and girls from participating in local team and club level sport and activity.

Many sports have a competitive format built into the social aspect of participating in a local team or club even though there is no intention for individuals to go on to play in national or international competition at the highest level. When policy and guidance leads to trans women and girls feeling not able to participate, based on their gender identity at this level of competition, one of the key benefits of casual sport participation, the ability to build long and lasting social connections can be lost. 

In the USA, we have seen how the same discussions around high performance athletes are leading to laws banning trans women and girls playing sport at all levels, including at a local level. In the UK, the chilling effect of Sport England’s guidance has led to numerous sports excluding trans women and girls participating within women’s sports. In reality, this often means feeling able to be involved in that organised sport altogether. Here in Ireland, we have already seen a number of sporting bodies begin to develop policies which have effectively completely excluded trans women and girls from participating at all levels of competition within women’s sport, such as in Basketball and Swimming.

While we recognise the need for clear and evidence based guidance around supporting sporting bodies in developing approaches to improve inclusion for all marginalised groups, it is clear that all too often the narrative of “trans inclusion” policies and guidance are leading to rules and outcomes that result in less trans women and girls being able to participate in sport at all levels. Where a document is named a “trans inclusion policy or guidance” , it is clear that the impact of its publication should be the removal of barriers for all trans people to participate in sport rather than more or total restrictions being introduced.

Sadly Sport Ireland’s recently published guidance we feel is continuing this narrative and does not substantially address the barriers and issues faced by all trans & non binary people wishing to participate in sport and may indeed lead to further restrictions for trans women and girls within local competitive sports and thus creating barriers for participation. This key issue was not addressed within the guidance document, yet will have a very real impact on trans women and girls ability to be included within sport teams and clubs.

In relation to the impact on Intersex people and consideration as part of the guidance’s development we feel that much more could have been done within the report. We feel there needs to be more recognition that many XY Intersex children are assigned female at birth and grow up happily identifying with their assigned sex and that many compete in sport. The document also shows a graph highlighting the developmental differences between the ‘two sexes’ which fails to recognise and include intersex people and their achievements.

We wish to highlight that we did welcome Sport Ireland inviting LGBTQIA+ NGOs and stakeholders to be consulted on the development of the recently published guidance. However, we are also disappointed that the consultation while mentioning engagement with LGBTQIA+ groups failed to include involvement of Intersex Ireland and the new guidance failed to make similar recommendations around the involvement of trans and non-binary stakeholders in the task forces set up to develop policy or guidance within individual sporting bodies.

Our ask:

–  Commit to an effective impact evaluation process to measure how the new Sport Ireland guidance has impacted on trans & non-binary peoples participation in sport following its introduction, and particularly in regards to trans women and girls. 

– Public acknowledgement that the discussions around high performance athletes is impacting on the barriers experienced by trans women and girls participating in local grassroots sports and that every individual should feel able to participate fully in sport and competition at this level.

– Communicate directly with individual sporting bodies regarding the need for trans & non-binary stakeholders to be directly involved in any policy and guidance development in this area.

– Communicate directly with individual sporting bodies that policies and guidance framed as trans and non-binary inclusion documents must substantially advance participation and remove barriers for trans & non binary people to participate in sport including trans women and girls. Otherwise they should not be described as “Trans Inclusion” documents.

– Commit to meeting with representatives from our organisations to hear our concerns and to work constructively to address barriers experienced by all trans & non-binary people to participate in sport.

We recognise the wide range of positive work that Sport Ireland does to support active and inclusive participation in sport across Ireland and hope that we can work together to address the communities concerns around the issues we have highlighted as we all work to build a world where sport and physical activity is truly open to all.

Signed on Behalf of 

Transgender Equality Network Ireland

LGBT Ireland


National LGBT Federation


Outhouse LGBTQ+ Centre 


Migrants Rights Centre Ireland

Flaming Feather Badminton Team

Union of Students In Ireland

Mammies for Trans Rights

Outcomers LGBT Support Service

Midlands LGBT Project

Amach! LGBT Galway