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by Margaret Taylor
16 June 2022
Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies urges Scottish Government to listen to female athletes' GRA concerns

Olympians Sharron Davies (right) and Mara Yamauchi have urged the Scottish Government to listen to women's fears

Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies urges Scottish Government to listen to female athletes' GRA concerns

Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies has warned that the range of sporting voices being heard in the debate over reform of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) is too narrow and risks leading to skewed outcomes that will have a lasting negative impact on women’s sport.

The parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee has been taking evidence in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill since the middle of May. During the 17 May session it heard from Hugh Torrance, executive director of LEAP Sports Scotland, and Malcolm Dingwall-Smith, strategic partnerships manager at Sport Scotland, about the effect the reforms might have in the sporting world.

Appearing at an Edinburgh event hosted by the feminist organisation For Women Scotland, Davies criticised the government for not taking evidence from female athletes too, noting that she believes the integrity of female sporting categories is being undermined by the inclusion of transgender women.

“The SNP do need to be very, very careful here because they are not selecting the right people, they are asking the people they want the answers from,” she said. “They need cross-opinion and they need to back it up with fact.”

Davies said she regularly speaks to Scottish female athletes who feel they are being excluded from their sport because most UK sporting bodies have followed the International Olympic Committee’s lead by including transwomen in women’s categories.

This puts biological women at a disadvantage, she said, because they are unable to physically compete with women whose bodies are biologically male, even when hormone treatment has lowered their testosterone levels.

She said the athletes she speaks to are too afraid to air their views in public for fear of being labelled transphobic but that she would “absolutely” represent them at the committee if she was asked.

Davies, who noted that she only ever won bronze or silver medals when competing in the 1970s and 1980s because her opponents were East German women whose strength was enhanced through the forced use of testosterone, was appearing at the event alongside Olympic runner Mara Yamauchi.

Both said that if the Scottish Government goes ahead with the kind of reform detailed in the bill, allowing trans people to self-declare their sex, it would enable male-bodied athletes to compete against women.

This would lead to the erosion of female categories, they said, because women would not want to compete in events they had no chance of winning.

“If you enable males to be in female sports you are excluding females from their own category of sport,” Davies said.

Yamauchi, who won the 2008 Osaka Ladies’ Marathon, said that if self-identification is allowed “women’s sport effectively no longer exists”.

“Male sport and mixed sport continues to exist but the end of a category existing for females only means the end of women’s sport,” she said. “You don’t need to be a sports fan or a scientist to know this – in 100 per cent of cases males outperform females.”

Conservative MSP Brian Whittle, who was attending the event alongside fellow Tories Douglas Lumsden and Sue Webber, noted that the debate around the inclusion of transwomen in female sports appears to revolve around elite sports only.

However, both Davies and Yamauchi noted that GRA reform would impact on sport at the grassroots level too, which would further impact on the pipeline of talent coming through to compete at the elite level.

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