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Statement on British Rowing’s new “Trans & Non-Binary Inclusion Policy and Procedures (2022)"

The Consortium on Female Sport is disappointed with British Rowing’s update on eligibility for the women’s category. Allowing males into women’s competition discriminates against female rowers on the basis of sex, violating one of the key stipulations of World Rowing’s Code of Ethics.

Key claims made in the announcement of the new policy seem to be incoherent.

British Rowing says that “extensive consultation with stakeholder organizations” was undertaken. Given the outcome, it is not apparent that the primary stakeholder group - female rowers - were consulted. There is no indication whatsoever that the female sector of the sport consented to a rule that would enable someone with a competitive advantage to participate in their races.

British Rowing asks “What is the balance between fairness and inclusion?” and refers to the UK Sports Council Equality Group’s (SCEG) 2021 “Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport.” But that guidance says there is no balancing inclusion and fairness in women’s sport. Every NGB has to choose between inclusion of born-males in the female category and fairness for females. British Rowing appears to have chosen to forfeit fairness in this version. Their choice is to discriminate against female rowers, even when there is an “open” category available.

British Rowing says, “The policy has no eligibility requirements for trans men and NB individuals wishing to compete in the Open category, they will be able to compete without restriction.” Of course not. It’s Open. They also say that if “a trans woman or non-binary rower cannot meet the eligibility requirements, the opportunity to compete will still be available to them through the Open category.”

So that means anyone, of either sex and any gender identity, can compete in the Open category. That’s what Open means. British Rowing already has a category for everyone to be included. They did not need to make the Female category mixed sex as well.

This is not an inclusive policy. There’s no thought for those who need single-sex sport in order to participate, such as those whose religion requires it. There is no fair competition for females.

The policy for juniors is even worse. Under 16 males can apply to compete in girls’ events. This is contemptuous of teenage girls. Puberty starts in boys around age 12. A 15 year old boy can beat an elite female rower. Is it possible this policy was drawn up by people who don’t know this? It was approved by the entire board, who surely do.

The Consortium on Female Sport contends that by not guaranteeing sex-based eligibility guidelines, British Rowing is purposefully imposing an exclusionary factor upon its female rowers. Every male allowed to self-identify into a female race will be excluding female rowers from placings and winning prizes. Female competition records will be set by people who have the advantage of male puberty, which will distort the historical record and put records out of reach.

Which scientific studies were used to justify this policy? All studies to date show that the male sport performance advantage is not mitigated irrespective of either duration or degree of testosterone suppression.

British Rowing says that “as the National Governing Body of rowing, we are responsible for ensuring fair & meaningful competition.” But they have not done so. Testosterone suppression does not work. The UK Sports Councils have said so. This policy is no better than the one it replaces.

Given that most of the athletes born female who identify as “men” or “non-binary” voluntarily remain in the women’s category, this policy will also be putting them at a disadvantage. In other words, the participation of male-born trans rowers will lead to exclusion of the female-born non-binary competitors.

This policy ensures overt discrimination against female-born rowers irrespective of how they identify. It is discrimination on the basis of sex.

British Rowing already has the solution in offering two categories: “Women” and “Open.” Why not take the final (proper) step and stipulate that the women’s category is for female athletes only?

The Consortium on Female Sport calls on British Rowing to revise this new policy as suggested above to preserve and protect the female category. We ask British Rowing to connect and consult with UK groups, Fair Play for Women and/or Sex Matters, who do represent the “female voice” regarding the right to fair competition.

Finally, the Consortium encourages anyone in the public sector or in the sport of rowing to respectfully convey their concern utilizing the feedback mechanism that British Rowing has made available:

About The Consortium on Female Sport The Consortium on Female Sport is an international campaign group advocating for the preservation of the female sports category. It is founded on the principle that fairness and safety for female athletes in sport is ensured by having a dedicated category for those born female*.

[*Definition: “Female athlete” is a competitor who is biologically female and has not therefore experienced male puberty.] The Consortium is a non-partisan, single-issue collective of women’s sports advocates from across the political spectrum. Membership or partnerships within The Consortium in no way indicates political affiliation with fellow members regarding any other topic of political concern.

Our Founding Members The Consortium includes campaign groups from the USA, Canada, France, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, and the UK.

Our Beliefs

On Being Consulted – Policy discussion on eligibility in women’s sports pertaining to any level (community to elite) and/or involving any jurisdiction MUST involve women who advocate for or who work or participate in female sport and include meaningful consultation with female athletes from the sport(s) in question.

On Sex-based Human Rights – Sex equality matters in all aspects of life, including in sport. In accordance with the tenets of the International Bill of Human Rights, the intent of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, Article 10(g)), and the precepts of the Women’s Declaration (Article 7), women and girls have a right to access and participate in sports in a manner that is fair, safe and without discrimination. To be denied this right is discrimination on the basis of sex.

On the Olympic Charter - The Consortium agrees with “Fundamental Principle 6” of the IOC Charter that there should be no discrimination against female athletes on the basis of sex.

On the 2021 IOC Framework - In keeping with IOC Framework principle 6.2.a, the Consortium agrees that International Federations should develop disciplines, events, scoring systems or other mechanisms to include everyone, while providing a dedicated female category.

Contact: Linda Blade, PhD Kinesiology, Sport Performance Professional Twitter: @female_sport Email: Website:


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