Transgender athletes: 'Everybody should have right to participate' - Grant Robertson

Sports Minister Grant Robertson.
Sports Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub

The starting point of a discussion on transgender athletes is that everybody should have the right to participate in sport, Sports Minister Grant Robertson says.

A group of former Olympic champions and New Zealand athletes sent an open letter to Robertson and the Prime Minister on Monday, calling on the Government to widen Sport New Zealand's consultation on the participation of transgender athletes in sport, citing issues of "fairness and safety".

They said the Draft Guiding Principles for the Participation of Transgender Players in Sport had not been shared with sports stakeholders who would be affected by the policy. The letter said they supported "universal participation" but the "inclusion of trans women athletes, specifically those who have transitioned after puberty, raised issues of fairness and safety in all sport".

The 43 athletes include former Olympians Barbara Kendall, Lorraine Moller and Dean Kent, former Olympic chef de mission David Gerrard, and New York marathon winner Alison Roe.

Robertson said guidelines on elite sport were by and large for international federations, not politicians. More broadly, though, he favoured an approach of everyone being able to "have a go" at sport.

"It is a complex and tricky area," Robertson told First Up.

"I applaud Sport New Zealand for the fact that they've gone out particularly firstly to the Rainbow community and to the trans community and said, 'how can we support people to participate and be involved and included in sport and recreation'.

"To me, that's the starting point.

"If we can all agree that we want all New Zealanders to have the opportunity to be part of sport, part of active recreation, part of things that are really intrinsic to being New Zealanders, I think that's a good starting point, and then we can work from there.

"Of course we've got to consider everybody's safety and everybody's comfort, but an approach based on inclusion is the one I want.

"I think what's happening a little bit here is two different conversations are being put together.

"One of them is that one, which is just about everyone having the ability to have a go and have a chance here in New Zealand.

"The other is about elite sport and how we make the rules about who can compete at that elite level - and that's by and large done by the international federations and I don't think it would be a good idea for politicians to be interfering too much in that. There are lots of advances in terms of medicines and science and so on to be able to judge whether people are competing fairly against one another.

"For me, the fundamental premise, everybody should have the right to participate, and we should start our conversation from there."