This article was first written for and published by The Roar.
There are some topics I am afraid to write about.
I am someone that is passionate about diversity and inclusion in sport. When I write about sport, I want to make sure that I am coming from an educated, considered and respectful position. Hurting the sports that I am passionate about or making someone feel like they were not welcome in the Australian sporting family is the last thing that I want to do.
In a world that is increasingly focused on diversity, when talking about issues of gender, LGBTIQ or race, conversation can be stifled and people can be afraid to speak up, lest they make a mistake with terminology or be called a racist, a homophobe, a sexist or a bigot for expressing a view in the wrong way.
In the past when thinking about whether to share a view on a particular topic, sometimes I have just placed an issue in the ‘too hard’ basket, just in case I put a foot wrong.
But today, even though it’s challenging, I want to write about Hannah Mouncey.
When it comes to conversations about people who identify as transgender, I am certainly not an expert. But I’m going to raise some questions in the hope that this leads to an open dialogue.
For those of you that also find this issue challenging, I encourage you to be brave enough to educate yourselves and to think critically about diversity and inclusion in our sports.
Most importantly, there is a way to have difficult conversations in a respectful manner. Think before you comment on this article – derogatory comments are hurtful and harmful. Anyone who cannot express a view without resorting to name-calling is not someone I want involved in the sports that I am passionate about.
Hannah Mouncey is a transgender woman who, on Tuesday, was deemed ineligible to participate in the 2018 AFLW draft.
Mouncey had previously played for the Australian men’s handball team before transitioning and has also played in the ACT women’s AFL competition throughout the year.
The reasons for her ineligibility in the draft were largely about her size and the disparity between Mouncey and some of the other women competing in the competition. Just to be clear, Mouncey is only ineligible for this year’s AFLW draft. She is allowed to nominate for future AFLW drafts and to register in other AFL competitions.
For me, this decision raises more questions than answers and demonstrates that there is plenty of work to be done in this space – not just in educating sports fans, but also in making sure our sports have appropriate policies in place so the process for determining whether people are eligible or not is clear.
Is it true that transgender women have a size advantage over other women in the competition? The easy answer, of course, is yes.
But women come in all shapes and sizes. Is it possible that other women that are of a similar size to Hannah could already be in the competition?
AFL Guidelines stipulate that in working out if a transgender woman is eligible for the competition, she must ‘demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition’. Mouncey’s last reading was well below these requirements.
If she meets the guidelines, why is she ineligible to play?
Why have I heard little but silence from other AFLW players? The competition has been a beacon for diversity. Images of players attending the AFLW Awards with their partners immediately come to mind, including the iconic image of Erin Phillips kissing her partner Tracy Gahan when she won the AFLW best and fairest award.
Have the players been told not to comment on this issue? Or is Mouncey’s size and physical strength genuinely something that they were concerned about? Some people have compared her size to other athletes in the competition (for example, she is only one centimetre shorter than Phillips), but is it just about height?
My other question is, if the AFL’s primary reason for deeming Mouncey ineligible was their concern about the disparity in size and strength, why has she been given the all clear to play in other AFL-affiliated women’s competitions?
Do the same concerns not exist outside the elite level? Why is it okay for Mouncey to play against players below the elite level, but not against the women who do play in AFLW?
What Mouncey’s situation demonstrates so clearly to me is that the AFL needs to think carefully about its own guidelines. In line with AFL Victoria Guidelines, because Mouncey has been through the gender reassignment process, she should be considered to be the gender set out on the Victorian state documentation. This is consistent with the IOCs approach to the issue as well.
If the AFL doesn’t want to adhere to these guidelines, then why have them in place?
Are the IOC Guidelines more appropriate for non-contact sports and, if so, why did the AFL not think critically about its policy?
It’s not like this issue has only just arisen. The AFL first became aware of Mouncey wanting to participate in the draft back in June. The fact that they left a decision on this to the day before the draft (meaning she had no right of appeal) shows that rather than backing themselves on inclusion and diversity when it mattered, the AFL was more inclined to end the conversation.
It’s very easy to change your logo to ‘yes’ and use words like diversity and inclusion and then back away when the issue becomes challenging or too hard. In light of the AFL’s decision, I wonder where transgender women fit into the AFL family if they want to play.
Whether you agree with the AFL’s decision or not, the timing of the announcement was poor and done in a way so to put the issue to bed.
On a topic that will become more relevant, not less, the AFL has lost an important opportunity to engage with its key stakeholders in an open and frank discussion.
To Hannah, I hope you still feel welcome in the AFL family because you are welcome. I wish you all the best in your future endeavours and hope you are still given the opportunity to pursue the sport that you are passionate about.