Sport-NZ govt backs transgender inclusion after ex-athlete protest

WELLINGTON, June 10 (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Sports Minister Grant Robertson said on Thursday that inclusion should be the starting point for any discussion about the participation of transgender people in the sex class of their choice.

Robertson was responding to an open letter from 43 former Olympic champions and athletes calling on the government to widen consultation on Sport New Zealand’s guidance on the participation of transgender players in sport.

The letter, sent to Robertson and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday, said a draft of the guidance had not been shared with stakeholders outside the LGBT community, disregarded women’s rights and raised issues of “fairness and safety”.

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has qualified to compete in the women’s competition at the Tokyo Olympics and is awaiting nomination to the New Zealand team.

Her likely inclusion is proving to be a lightning rod for critics of the International Olympic Committee’s guidance on inclusion for transgender athletes, which they believe ignores the performance advantage gained by going through male puberty.

Robertson, conceding it was a “complex” issue, said he thought it was correct that Sport New Zealand had consulted the LGBT community first.

“If we can all agree that we want all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to be part of sport ... I think that’s a good starting point, and then we can work form there,” he told Radio New Zealand.

“Of course we’ve got to consider overall everybody’s safety and everybody’s comfort, but an approach based on inclusion is the one I want.”

Robertson said he thought which athletes were allowed to compete in what classes in elite sport was best left to international federations.

“I don’t think it would be a good idea for politicians to be interfering too much in that,” he added.

“For me, the fundamental premise, everybody should have the right to participate, and we should start our conversation from there.”

Save Women’s Sports Australasia, which organised Monday’s letter, welcomed Robertson’s indication that Sport New Zealand might widen their consultation process on the guidelines.

“However, we are concerned to hear that the Hon Grant Robertson has been very clear that the principle of inclusion is more important than the fairness, safety, and opportunities for females,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“We don’t separate sport by identity, we separate it by sex for very distinct biological and physical reasons. Sport is a zero sum game. If you include biological males in female sport it will come at the exclusion of females.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney, editing by Peter Rutherford)