Olympic stars back PM for diving into row about trans athletes

7 April 2022, 00:28 | Updated: 7 April 2022, 01:15

Boris Johnson has been praised by Olympic stars such as Sharron Davies for his comments on trans athletes in women's sport.
Boris Johnson has been praised by Olympic stars such as Sharron Davies for his comments on trans athletes in women's sport. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

A number of Olympic stars have praised Boris Johnson for diving into the row about transgender athletes after he said biological males shouldn't compete in women's sports.

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Speaking to broadcasters during a hospital visit on Wednesday, the Prime Minister said he was "immensely sympathetic" to people wanting to change their gender but that trans women should not be able to complete in female-only sporting events.

"I don't think that biological males should be competing in female sporting events," he said.

"It just seems to me to be sensible."

His comments have sparked fast debate, with LGBT+ charities slamming the blanket exclusion on trans people as "fundamentally unfair".

"|We know that trans people are also under-represented in community sport and often feel excluded," Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ rights charity said.

Read more: 'Biological males shouldn't compete in women's sport': PM weighs in on trans athlete row

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Ex-Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, 59, a longtime opponent of trans athletes competing in female categories, showed her support for the Prime Minister's remarks.

“Thank you, Boris," she wrote on Twitter.

The former MBE swimmer later added: "No one is banned from sport, nor does anyone who’s passionate about sport want that. What we want is fair sport, just compete where your biology matches the others in the race/game."

Champion cyclist Nicole Cooke, 38, tweeted: “Really pleased to see UK politicians working towards fair sports categories for trans athletes and women athletes.”

Daley Thompson, 63, who won Olympic decathlon gold in 1980 and 1984, thanked Mr Johnson for clarifying his view on women’s sports.

He said: “I know you have a lot on your plate at the moment, but thank you for standing up for women’s and girls’ rights to have their own sport and space.

“I also think children should have parental involvement on the question of gender.”

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Mr Johnson said it is "vital" we give trans people the "maximum possible love and support in making those decision".

He also suggested trans women should not be allowed into female-only spaces such as changing rooms, saying: "I also happen to think that women should have spaces - whether it is in hospitals or prisons or changing rooms or wherever - which are dedicated to women."

Mr Johnson made the remarks after an open letter, signed by over 75 female sports figures, was sent to the cycling world governing body, the ICU, calling for transgender women to be banned from competing against people born as female.

The letter said the current rules around trans athletes are "discriminatory in that it advantages only biological male athletes".

It comes in the wake of transgender cyclist Emily Bridges being prevented from riding at the National Omnium Championships in Derby last weekend.

Bridges, who began hormone therapy last year, had been due to race for the first time in the female category after British Cycling gave the 21-year-old the green light to enter, but the International Cycling Union ruled her ineligible.

Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ rights charity, issued a fresh statement following Wednesday's comments by the Prime Minister.

A spokesperson said: "Trans people deserve the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy the benefits of sport and blanket exclusions on trans people participating are fundamentally unfair.

"This is a complex and fast-evolving issue and much of the science doesn't yet exist in this area. Inclusion policies need to be considered on a sport-by-sport basis and it's vital to avoid using inflammatory rhetoric, which often causes trans people to stop playing the sports they love.

"While elite sport often dominates these discussions, it only makes up a tiny proportion of all sport played in the UK. We know that trans people are also under-represented in community sport and often feel excluded.

"Two in five trans people (38 per cent) say they avoid going to the gym or participating in sports groups because they fear of discrimination and harassment. Sport has the unique power to bring us together and it's important that trans people have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sport without facing exclusion or abuse."

Boris Johnson has fallen under heavy criticism recently after the government announced it was not including transgender people in the proposed conversion therapy ban.

On Wednesday Mr Johnson defended the decision by saying there are "complexities and sensitivities" which needed to be worked through.

But Jayne Oxanne, a former LGBT Government adviser, said leaders needed to stop making "pathetic excuses" and said the LGBT+ community's trust in the Government is now "completely and utterly broken".