Football Australia reaffirms diversity pledge amid federal election furore

As transgender women's participation in sport continues to be an unexpected focus of Australia's federal election, Football Australia has underlined its commitment to creating an environment in which "people of all experiences and identities" can participate and feel welcomed.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has voiced support for Liberal candidate Katherine Deves and Liberal Tasmanian senator Claire Chandler after both faced criticism for their efforts to limit the participation of trans athletes in women's sports.

"I think [Deves] raised very important issues and I think Claire Chandler's also been outspoken and brave on these issues," the prime minister said on the first day of his election campaign.

In February, Chandler introduced a private member's bill into the Australian parliament that would have altered the Sex Discrimination Act to allow sporting groups and clubs to exclude transgender women from single-sex sports. Speaking at an event in Hobart that month, Deves -- who has been described as a "captain's pick" for preselection by Morrison -- claimed she had helped to develop the proposed legislation.

Parliament was prorogued for the election before Chandler's bill could be brought on for debate. The prime minister has said the proposed legislation would remain a private member's bill in the event his government was reelected.

As a founding member of Pride in Sport, Football Australia was one of 13 sporting organisations that committed to "developing trans and gender diverse inclusion frameworks for their sport" in October of 2020.

In the 18 months since, Football Australia has yet to produce any executable policies, though figures at the federation have assured ESPN it remains committed to finalising the work and fostering further inclusion at all levels of the game.

"Football prides itself on being the most multicultural, diverse and inclusive sport in Australia," a Football Australia spokesperson told ESPN.

"Living its values, Football Australia will always seek to create environments where people of all experiences and identities, regardless of background, race or gender, feel welcome and encouraged to participate in the world game."

Football Australia formally marched in Sydney's Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the first time in March, represented by members of its board, executives, current and former national team players, and front office staff.

"We are passionate about supporting LGBTQI+ participants in the football family and beyond," Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said at the time.

"We hope that [marching in Mardi Gras] reinforces the message that football is a game for all and that we as the governing body will not accept discriminatory behaviour in football."

Members of the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) joined Football Australia in March, and A-Leagues commissioner Greg O'Rourke told ESPN that his organisation was committed to maintaining football's legacy of inclusion.

"February's Pride Game double-header in Adelaide was a proud moment for our leagues, and as we work to grow its legacy and maintain our position as the most inclusive sport in Australia," O'Rourke said.

"We look to the sport's governing bodies -- Football Australia and FIFA -- to set the regulatory framework for gender diversity that we will adopt."

At present, global governing body FIFA does not possess an explicit policy surrounding trans women competing in its sanctioned competitions. The body introduced "gender verification" regulations in 2011, but these contain no mention of athletes who have undergone a transition.

These regulations have been under review since late 2020.

The International Olympic Committee released updated policy recommendations for transgender and intersex athlete participation in November 2021.

"Trans and gender diverse people should be welcomed within sport and should have access to sport free from discrimination," Professional Footballers Australia co-chief executive Kathryn Gill told ESPN.

"Unfortunately, members and prospective members of the Federal Government are attempting to divide and deny people their basic human rights. If sport is genuine about being a force for good this must be strongly resisted."