World Aquatics’ open category at last month’s Swimming World Cup in Berlin was described as a “pilot project” aimed at highlighting the organisation’s “unwavering commitment to inclusiveness”.
However, the project failed as no athletes signed up to compete in the new category – an outcome some had already predicted.
“Forced exit instead of inclusion”
“We had already criticized the introduction of this category. The fact that no one came forward is understandable and did not surprise us,” Mara Geri, board member of the Association of Lesbians and Women, told DW. Gays of Germany (LSVD).
“There are not a lot professional swimming athletes. To then sign up as a trans person in a segregated group like that borders on forced coming out,” Geri added.
“This makes trans people second-class people who don’t really belong. In our opinion, this is certainly not inclusion, but a big step towards exclusion.”
Fear of discrimination and exclusion
It is not only high-level sports where transgender people feel excluded, even isolated. In the first comprehensive European survey on LGBTQ athletes survey conducted by the German Sport University Cologne in 2019, 20% of respondents said they did not participate in their sport of choice due to fear of discrimination, exclusion or negative comments. The survey found that 56% of trans people and 73% of trans men felt excluded from certain sports because of their gender identity. Almost all respondents agree that homophobia and transphobia are a problem in sport.
Berlin football is charting its own course
The Berlin Football Association (BFV) broke new ground in 2019 by becoming one of the first sports organizations in Germany to establish inclusive rules. There, people who identify as non-binary are free to choose whether they want to play with men or women. Additionally, trans people are automatically eligible to play for the team of their choice when transitioning gender.
“You have to make a distinction. We have people who play in amateur leagues and others who just play,” Michaela Jessica Tschitschke, recently appointed adviser on sexual diversity at the BFV, told DW.
According to Tschitschke, a 43-year-old trans woman who plays and coaches a women’s team in Berlin, around 15 trans people are currently involved in the city’s soccer fields.
“These people mainly play on women’s teams. They (women) are generally more open to trans people,” Tschitschke said.
In Tschitschke’s experience, trans men who want to play on men’s teams have a much harder time being accepted.
“Unfortunately, most of them then give up. It’s a shame because we have often supported these people for a long time.”
Being accepted remains a struggle
Even if the trans person is fully accepted by their own team, they often face prejudice from opposing teams, Tschitschke said.
“Then problems arise. Unfortunately, it is generally assumed that they are at a performance advantage.
Last year, the German Football Association (DFB) changed its match regulations to include Berlin’s inclusion rules.
“Some regional associations have already implemented them. In others, things remain at a standstill,” Tschitschke said.
Although the total number of people affected is still quite low, Tschitschke remains optimistic. “We’ve already made some changes.”
This article was originally published in German.
Edited by: Jonathan Harding