By Stefica Nicol Bikes
SYDNEY, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Eight Australian sports federations, including peak bodies for tennis, rugby union and Australian Rules football, issued guidelines on Thursday aimed at encouraging the participation of transgender athletes.
The initiative is designed to break down the stigma faced by trans and gender-diverse people and offer pathways from community sport onwards, tackling an issue where sports have grappled to find a balance between fairness and inclusion.
"This is a world first to see so many national sporting organisations in Australia coming together to collectively show their support for a particular part of our community," Beau Newell, National Progam Manager of Pride in Sport Australia, an NGO promoting inclusiveness, said at the launch of the guidelines.
Tennis Australia, Rugby Australia and national federations for Australian Rules football, hockey, netball, water polo, Touch Football and university sports issued guidelines governing inclusion at grass-roots and community level.
Netball Australia and the Australian Football League (AFL), the Aussie Rules governing body, also issued fresh guidelines for the elite level.
While aimed at promoting inclusion, the guidelines differ across different sports.
Rugby Australia requires trans athletes to have a medical specialist complete a consent form that specifies that their "physical development, skill level and experience are appropriate" for the full-contact sport.
Tennis Australia takes a much lighter touch, discouraging officials from questioning athletes about their transitioning or requesting medical examinations.
"The tennis court and club should be a place of enjoyment and comfort for everyone," Tennis Australia Chief Executive Craig Tiley said.
The participation of trans athletes in sport has proved divisive.
Cricket Australia came under fire last year from critics including Prime Minister Scott Morrison over their gender diversity policy, which only requires a nomination of gender identity for athletes at community level.
Women's sports advocates argue that the naturally acquired physical benefits a transgender woman receives by going through male puberty last long into adulthood and provide an unfair advantage in competition.
Transgender advocates, however, say inclusiveness should be the over-riding factor and that preventing trans athletes from participating in women's sport only increases the stigma and discrimination they face.
A number of other Australian federations, including for soccer, golf, swimming and athletics, committed to emulating the other sports by producing their own inclusion frameworks.
Australian sports have been criticised in the past by transgender activists for not doing enough to include trans athletes.
The AFL came under fire over its handling of the case of trans athlete Hannah Mouncey, who represented Australia in men's handball before transitioning.
Mouncey played women's football at provincial level but the AFL barred her from entering the 2017 draft for the professional women's competition and she withdrew her nomination for the draft the following year, complaining of poor treatment from the league.
Former middle distance runner Ricki Coughlan, one of Australia's first trans athletes to come out in the early 1990s, said on Thursday the new guidelines allowed room to deal with "concerns about size, or weight, or performance".
"So there's a pathway to achieving that and I'd just say that every transgender person is different and that let's begin with inclusion," she said.
(Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Writing by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin)