Gareth Thomas explains why trans sports bans are so damaging: ‘It’s a purpose to be alive’

Former Wales rugby union captain, and HIV activist, Gareth Thomas has come out swinging for trans inclusion in sport, saying taking part is “more than just winning or losing”. 

The sportsman spoke with PinkNews about his three-peaks challenge for Tackle HIV’s charity partner, the Terrence Higgins Trust. 

The fundraising effort sees the star, joined by other celebrities and charity workers, climb the three highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales: Scafell Pike, Ben Nevis, and Snowdon – which is also known as Yr Wyddfa. 

During the interview, Thomas explained his views on trans inclusion in sport, a topic that has elicited hostile division and debate across every discipline and at every level of participation. 

“Sport is more than just winning or losing. Sport is so much more than that,” Thomas said.

“For me, and for so many other people, sport is a reason to represent something when you feel like you have nothing to represent at all. 

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“Sport is a reason to get out of the house, sport is a reason to be active, sport is a reason to have friends.” 

Thomas, who also captained the British and Irish Lions during their tour of New Zealand in 2005, added: “When we talk about sport, we all of a sudden think of elite sport and of winning a gold medal or lifting a trophy, but it is more than that.”  

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Gareth Thomas has taken the high road in an effort to raise money for the Terrence Higgins Trust. (Beat Media)

Touching on the divisive narrative which has emerged around trans inclusion and participation, he said it has enabled people to be transphobic and “justify” their transphobia through the lens of sport – something that does not sit well with him. 

“To take away the ability of people to be able to part of a sports team away [because of] a characteristic – a characteristic that people don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, be a part of, be a friend or colleague of – is depriving them of the ability of having a lived experience of something that gives them a purpose to be alive,” he explained. 

In recent months, a number of sporting bodies have banned trans participants in some, or all, capacities. 

Citing trans players who were unable to compete at the IGR Union Cup 2023 – an LGBTQ+ rugby competition – in April, due to the Rugby Football Union changing its trans participation rules, Thomas, who revealed his HIV status in 2019, having come out as gay 10 years earlier, said the players had the “one thing in their life that really makes them feel alive” taken away. 

The rugby legend, who played both codes of the game, union and league, added that he refuses to believe anyone would transition and go through the lengthy process of accessing gender-affirming care and the stigmas associated with being trans, just to stand on top of a podium and say they won a medal. 

Current waiting times for a first appointment with a gender identity clinic in the UK are close to five years, further discrediting the claim that people transition specifically to play top-level sports, given that a significant portion of their career would be spent waiting for care. 

“Do we care that much about winning or losing more than people’s ability to feel like they belong in society or not? Sometimes some people think winning and losing is more important,” Thomas said. 

Gareth Thomas (r) is totally behind trans inclusion. (Beat Media)

The star highlighted that a “very, very small” part of society are trans and within that an even smaller portion would want to play sports, meaning society is arguing about a small part of society who are already “underrepresented at most levels in society, most levels of power”.

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He went on: “It’s very hard for them to have support or feel like they have a voice because they’re very underrepresented everywhere. I’m totally in support of trans people being able to have a part to play in society.” 

Tackle HIV is a campaign led by Gareth Thomas in partnership with ViiV Healthcare and the Terrence Higgins Trust, and aims to tackle the stigma and misunderstanding around HIV. For more information visit www.tacklehiv.org and follow @tacklehiv

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