Has Transsexuality In Football Turned A Corner?

This needs no introduction. Chris Ledger looks at a genuinely thought provoking issue.

Homophobia in football is an issue that has seen increased discussion in recent months – something that has no doubt been influenced by Vlatko Markovic and Sepp Blatter’s recent comments, as well as the controversial decision to give the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer’s decision to come out as bisexual last month also played a role in the increased coverage of homosexuality in football. Media coverage of transsexuality and transgenderism in football, though, is still relatively non-existent.

The most high-profile example of transsexuality in football was in June 2005 when Martine Delaney, formerly Martin Delaney, was allowed to compete in Soccer Tasmanian’s women’s league. Delaney, who was 47-years-old at the time, was initially shy about being a male-to-female transsexual footballer but she played regularly for Claremont United after gaining support from her team-mates.

Other players in the league, though, were concerned about her excellent form. After Delaney scored six goals for her club, they questioned her right to play in the league and complained; showing the discrimination directed at transgender and transsexual footballers.

Both Soccer Tasmanian and the Football Federation of Australia confirmed that Delaney was entitled to play in the league as, according to a ruling made by the International Olympic Committee in May 2004, she is classed as a female and banning her would contradict their anti-discriminatory rules. Despite the anti-discriminatory rules that are in place, though, the requirement for transsexual and transgender footballers to meet set criteria is commonplace internationally.

The Football Association Policy on Transgender and Transsexual People in Football, for example, is heavily influenced by the rulings made by the International Olympic Committee. Although the policy was introduced with the right intentions – it was to prevent footballers lying about their gender and to ensure that the game was played fairly – there could be legitimate concerns that the policy has hidden discrimination and bureaucracy.

Any enquiry is initially passed onto The FA’s Equality Manager, who then notifies the Head of Football Regulation and a medical representative. When a decision is made on whether a transsexual or transgender footballer can play as their acquired gender, though, it is dependent on various factors.

Although male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals who underwent gender re-assignment surgery before puberty are automatically regarded as their acquired gender, it is a more complex matter if this happened after puberty. Such a footballer will only be eligible to play as their acquired gender if surgical anatomical change – which includes external genitalia change and gonadectomy – has been in effect for two years and if hormonal therapy has been administrated, in a verifiable manner, for a significant length of time. They must also prove that the Gender Recognition Panel recognises their acquired gender.

These rules have previously been criticised. Jamison Green, a director of the Transgender Law and Policy Institute, commented that the requirement for athletes, including footballers, to have surgical anatomical change is unnecessary and should not be a requirement. Green also claimed that many female-to-male transsexuals could be classed as their acquired gender without this surgery, as they cannot afford to have it.

This, therefore, reduces the accessibility of transsexual and transgender footballers playing as their acquired gender. Associations like the FA and the FFA could be accused of denying some the chance of playing in a particular league, even if they had the required hormonal treatment.

A report published in October, that was co-sponsored by the National Centre of Lesbian Rights and the Women’s Sports Foundation, could also lead to suggestions that these policies are unfair. ‘On The Term: Equality Opportunity for Transgender Student Athletes’ recommended that transgender athletes should undergo one year of hormonal treatment, before being entitled to play as their transitioned gender.

The requirement to have surgical anatomical change for two years, therefore, presents another barrier. This could lead to transgender footballers becoming disillusioned with the sport, if they are forced to play in a particular league for longer than what is recommended.

Interestingly, though, the report looks at this issue mainly from a male-to-female perspective. This sets a dangerous precedent as the issue of female-to-male transsexual and transgender footballers could be sidelined because of the complacent assumption that they rarely exist. When the extent of homophobia in male football is considered, this lack of proactivity could lead to severe discrimination in the future.

In other sports, though, there have been a number of female-to-male athletes coming out of the closet. Kye Allums (pictured above), for example, became the first openly transgender male player to play Division One college basketball in November 2010. Allums – who plays for George Washington’s Women’s Basketball Team, as he has not yet undergone hormonal treatment and surgery – was widely praised in the media for her bravery. June 2009 also saw the first female-to-male transsexual to play competitive Australian football in a men’s team where, again, the reaction was generally positive.

The media coverage of transsexuality in football and sport, whether they are male-to-female or female-to-male transsexuals, is a positive step. Despite this coverage being very minimal, it helps to create awareness about this often-misunderstood issue. Although the policies that are currently in place for transsexual and transgender footballers could be improved, there are bigger obstacles to overcome.

The possible discrimination that such a player could face, both on and off the pitch, may be worse than the abuse gay footballers could face. Considering Markovic and Blatter’s remarks, as well as the fact that no British professional footballer has come out as a homosexual since Justin Fashanu, means that the acceptance of transsexual and transgender footballers could be the biggest challenge that world football has faced. A start has been made, but so much work still needs to be done.

As well as writing for IBWM, Chris is also the editor of the outstanding Obscure Music and Football blog. You can follow him on Twitter @obscurefootball.