Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 August 2022


Women In Sport

8:23 pm

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Should eligibility for women's sporting events be based on biological sex? Over the last few years, an extraordinary amount of effort has been put into stopping anyone from even asking this question, let alone answering it in the affirmative. Women have been threatened, abused, pilloried and ostracised for pointing out that the purpose of women's sport is to provide fair competition for the female sex. Many lies have been told about female athletes being more than happy to compete against males. Commentators, journalists and politicians alike have claimed that nobody cares about the issue of protecting single-sex women's sport, or those that do care are simply bigots, or that the issue isn't important enough to warrant discussion, or, worst of all, that even talking about women's sex based rights is a form of violence and a form of hate speech.

Yet, when FINA, the international governing body for swimmers, asked their elite athletes whether eligibility for women's events should be based solely on biological sex, 83.8 per cent of them said yes. More than eight in 10 elite swimmers agree that women's events must be for females. But how can this possibly be, when we've heard the media and activists and politicians repeatedly tell us that female athletes don't care if they're competing against males? This is a lie that many have gotten away with only by refusing to ask female athletes for their views and by bullying, belittling and disparaging women who did speak up and acknowledged that single-sex sport is essential to allow women and girls to participate and compete fairly.

Over the last three years I've been contacted by women in sport at every level, from Olympic medallists to women playing at their local club, who have said how important it is to protect the female category, but how impossible it has been to speak out because of the attitude of the governing bodies in their sports.

Two years ago, World Rugby released a detailed report based on extensive scientific analysis which found that female players tackled by male players are at a 25 to 30 per cent greater risk of serious head and neck injuries—two years ago. Yet Rugby Australia last week confirmed that it will continue to allow males to play against women in community rugby competitions around Australia. Rugby Australia is saying to women and girls playing for their local club on a weekend that it couldn't care less if they are being exposed to a 30 per cent increase in serious head and neck injuries. As we stand here today, Australia's three major contact-football codes all encourage the inclusion of male players in the women's competitions at community level—not just allow; encourage.

While the rest of the world is starting to wake up and is realising that there is nothing inclusive or scientific about telling female athletes that they have to accept males into their sport, Australian politicians and journalists are still desperately trying to uphold a culture of no debate by denigrating anyone who publicly recognises the need for single-sex sport.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what we've seen from the new Minister for Sport and from her colleagues on the other side of this chamber. The new sports minister has stated that my proposal, tabled in the last parliament, to ensure that single-sex women's sport is lawful, supported and encouraged should—in the minister's words—'go right to the back of the shelf to gather dust'. How is it acceptable that major world sporting bodies like FINA and World Rugby are recognising that single-sex women's sport is essential to fair and safe competition, yet the Australian government is content for our country to have laws that prevent local sporting competitions and clubs from guaranteeing female players won't have to take the field against males? Even our most decorated female Olympians speaking openly about the reality of sport—that fairness in women's sport is not compatible with male inclusion in the female category—hasn't been able to prompt reflection or a change of course from our media and many peak sporting bodies in Australia.

Instead, we are now hearing the excuse that fairness matters only at the elite level. What an insult to the millions of Australians who play their sport at community and local level. According to this new excuse, fairness is a privilege to be granted only to the elite one per cent, yet fairness is no less important at sub-elite levels of sport. A race can be won by a split second, whether it's at the Olympics or at a local swimming club. A local football grand final is just as likely to be decided by one point as the AFL Grand Final. A woman playing rugby at her local club is just as likely to have her neck broken or her brain injured as a professional player.

It's the pinnacle of elitism to claim, as some have, that local sport is just about fun and fitness. All of us in this parliament would know many women and men and boys and girls who put their heart and soul into winning games for their local club. They train two to three nights a week after work. They slog it out in the off-season, getting as fit as they can to help their team get over the line, and, when they step onto the field, they are trying as hard as they can to compete and to win. For their governing bodies and their governments to say to those women and girls that they are not entitled to the same level of fairness that elite athletes are entitled to is simply wrong. And, if you remove that fairness from any level of competitive sport, the result will undoubtedly be that many women and girls stop playing. Policies like the one that FINA has adopted, supported in overwhelming numbers by its athletes, help ensure that the reality of sex differences in sport is acknowledged and respected by maintaining a single-sex female category.

But Australian sports aren't free to adopt policies like FINA's. Australia's antidiscrimination laws would prevent a policy like FINA's from being adopted here. The Minister for Sport and the Prime Minister have made clear that they're perfectly happy for Australian sport clubs and volunteers to continue to face legal action if they offer single-sex sport for women. And they're perfectly happy to dismiss concerns as a so-called right-wing issue, proving that they're really not listening to female sporting champions from all around Australia and the world. Nor are they listening to the sportswomen around this country and the parents of girls playing sport, who just want their sports and their daughters' sports to be fair and safe. Australia is at risk of being left behind while sensible people and organisations all around the world are waking up.

Australian governments spend tens of millions of dollars on sport every year, often on the basis of providing opportunities to women and girls in sport. And yet many commentators are desperate to prevent debate and say that politicians should stay out of this issue. That's absolute rubbish! That is exactly how you end up with lobby groups and Twitter activists setting the rules, establishing the culture and telling women that they're bigots for wanting single-sex sport and spaces.

If sport is important enough for the government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on then it's important enough for elected representatives to speak up, as often as we must, to ensure that Australian women and girls aren't being thrown under the bus for the sake of a misogynistic and misguided ideology.