Young trans people say sport bans ‘stoke a fire of hatred’ after World Athletics decision 

People running in front of a trans flag.

New research has found nearly three quarters of trans youngsters feel their gender identity is a barrier to get involved in sports. 

The study, conducted by trans youth charity Mermaids, comes in the same week World Athletics announced a ban on trans women competing in the female category at events.

The research report, entitled ‘Young People and Sport’, was carried out by Mermaids with the aim of “understanding the experiences of trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people in sport and physical exercise in the UK”.

Sam, a non-binary teenager who has been involved with a variety of sports, said the bans are “stoking this fire of hatred” towards transgender people.

They told PinkNews that at grassroots level “there’s not any specific reason for sports to be gender segregated”.

“I think it’s just important to encourage the inclusion of everyone at that level. Everyone deserves to be able to join in with sport and lead a healthy lifestyle,” they said.

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Sam added that the whole situation of sports bans and exclusions are “disheartening” for trans youth.

“It’s stoking this fire of hatred towards trans people really, and normalising it even more. If international sports organisations are putting rules in place to exclude trans people, it makes it seem acceptable to people in everyday life,” they explained. 

‘It makes me sometimes feel unwanted in the world’

Mermaids recommends that “young people should never be excluded from participating in sport on the basis of their gender or trans identities” and steps should be taken by teachers, coaches and those working in sport to educate themselves about trans people and create a welcoming and affirming space for trans youngsters. 

The charity surveyed 180 trans young people aged between 11 and 16 as part of the research, asking them a range of tickbox and open-ended questions about their involvement in sport. 

Key findings from the report show that 79 per cent of trans young people feel their gender identity has been a barrier to them being involved in sport while almost a third (31 per cent) worry about taking part at all after seeing negative stories about trans athletes in the media. 

“I just feel that no matter how hard I worked that I would be kicked out for some reason or another,” one young person involved in the study said. 

Another explained: “Because people are always so negative towards trans people in sports, it makes me sometimes feel unwanted in the world like I’ll never be good enough for people just because I’m trans.”

Of those who take part in sport, 69 per cent believe being involved in physical activity helped their mental health, and many survey noted the link between physical activity, their health and mental wellbeing. 

One youth noted that sport helps you “become healthier”.

“You have more stamina, which allows you to participate in other activities more easily. You can gain more muscle mass, which looks cool.”

Another described how sport actually helped with their dysphoria as it enabled them to build muscles so they have a “more masculine chest”.

Sport teaches ‘everything they take into adulthood’

Verity Smith, an ex-pro rugby player and Mermaids trans inclusion in sports manager, told PinkNews that while debates around trans and gender diverse adults have become endemic, not a lot of research has been done into the “the trickle down effects on young people”.

For Smith, bans at top levels in sport are having a direct impact on children and young people who want to get involved in grassroots activities, or even at their school for sports day. 

“For me, children, don’t just learn the rules of a sport, they don’t just learn to kick a ball,” he explained,

“They learn how to work with their peers, they learn time management, they learn problem solving: everything that they take into adulthood in their working lives. 

“But by stopping them from doing that we’re taking a massive piece away from them and from their learning as well.”

He added: “Every child should have the opportunity to go out there and play sports.”