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Australian Open CEO Calls for Transgender Athletes in Women’s World Tennis

CEO of Tennis Australia Craig Tiley has declared his organisation’s support for the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s tennis.

Tiley called on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to allow transgender tennis players to compete at the elite level.

“When it comes to professional tennis, we’ve got to be responsive to the international tennis federations. They set the guidelines and the policy on it,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“But you know, as a sport, we’ve made our position pretty clear…and we are supportive (of transgender inclusion.) Tennis has had to grapple with the decisions on this for quite a while,” he added.

“We’re trying to influence the decision now. We are an organisation that believes absolutely in inclusivity, in diversity, in equality-so any decision made will need to be aligned without core values.”

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Andrew Dillon, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley speak to Eddie Betts during a media opportunity with Australian sports governing body representatives who will support The Voice, at CitiPower Centre in Melbourne, Australia on May 26, 2023. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

In late 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) released an official framework surrounding fairness, inclusion, and non-discrimination.

A key component is the organisation’s push to ensure elite athletes are not excluded from competition on the basis of their sexual identity, but to also give sporting bodies the room to form their own regulations around the issue.

Former Australian professional tennis player and current state Liberal MP Sam Groth believes these bodies must make a clear distinction between the needs of athletes at the grassroots and professional levels.

“As long as in the end, they get that mix between, at that community grassroots level, being able to be inclusive and give people the opportunity to be able to play, but sport at a professional level needs to be fair,” he told the Today show.

“We have rules around performance-enhancing drugs and anti-doping. We already have things in sport that make sure we have a level playing field and that should remain.”

There is, however, strong backlash from those who believe that this is a critical issue beyond sport and that the inclusion of transgender athletes will encroach on women’s rights.

Women’s Advocates Push Back

Rachel Wong, the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia, outlined how in her view, it is likely this issue will encounter virtually non-existent condemnation because of its controversial nature.

“No doubt it’s because they’re in fear of losing their jobs, in fear of being vilified and cancelled but the reality is we’re not going to see enough movement on this issue until sports professionals actually stand up on this,” she told Sky News Australia.

Wong said prominent female athletes needed to oppose the movement.

“The types of athletes that were reached out to are people like Ronda Rousey, who knows full well how dangerous it is for men to be competing against women. She herself refused to compete against trans-MMA fighter Fallon Fox.

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Ronda Rousey, right, kicks Sara McMann during a UFC 170 mixed martial arts women’s bantamweight title fight on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, in Las Vegas. Rousey won by TKO. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

“Serena Williams was another one, who again, has also said that men’s and women’s tennis are completely different,” Wong said.

“These women have a responsibility to their sports and to the female athletes that are going to come after them and who are not going to have the same fair playing field that they have managed to have themselves.”

U.S. tennis legend, Martina Navratilova, spoke out against Tiley’s stance.

“By including trans-identified males in female category, biological females lose a spot. It’s that simple. Seems to me Craig Tilley doesn’t understand that concept,” she wrote on Twitter.

Transgender Issue Goes Global

The inclusion of transgenders in women’s sports comes amid a wider push to break down gender separations.

The National Center for Transgender Equality in the U.S. for instance, says there should be no gender-neutral bathrooms and that transgender individuals should have the right to use the bathroom that best matches their self-perceived identity.

The organisation also claims no safety issue will arise from implementing such an idea.

Meanwhile, Tennis Australia’s push may not have any immediate impact given sporting organisers are conscious of needing to guarantee a level playing field.

The ITF’s current policy surrounding transgender participation requires those that have transitioned from male to female to maintain testosterone levels below five nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

The World Athletics, World Aquatics, International Rugby League, and World Rugby bodies have maintained a ban on trans athletes.

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