‘A living and breathing document’: U Sports to accompany transgender policy implementation with document on best practices

A month after U Sports announced a new policy on transgender student-athlete participation, the national governance body for Canadian university sports is continuing to build its guidance document for affiliated schools.

Under this policy, transgender student-athletes can choose to compete in either the team of their assigned sex at birth or their current gender identity. That said, they may only play for one gender within an academic year.

To ease the transition, U Sports’ guidance documentation hopes to provide recommendations and answers for common questions about the policy.

The specifics of the implementation will be determined by the individual schools, however.

“We set a rule and our schools are entitled to do things that are more stringent but not more lenient,” said U Sports Chief Operating Officer David Goldstein. “… We don’t tell schools how to run their tryouts, we don’t tell schools how to run their locker room arrangement or travel or hotel or anything like that.”

Goldstein added that there’s no requirement from U Sports for student-athletes or coaches to disclose or verify any information on this issue.

“We won’t know how many transgender student-athletes competed in a given year because they wouldn’t be classified any differently than anyone else on the team,” Goldstein said.

Currently, the details of UBC’s approach to the policy are unclear as they wait for further guidelines from U Sports.

“UBC supports the inclusive new U SPORTS Transgender Policy for student athletes,” said Gord Hopper, director of performance and team support for UBC Athletics in an email to The Ubyssey, “but at this time we’re still waiting for some of the intricacies and details of the policy and how that relates to implementation.”

“A living and breathing document”

According to Goldstein, a question that has received a lot of attention is how the Canadian anti-doping program would work with this policy.

With 14,000 affiliated student-athletes, U Sports is using a medical review system instead of allowing for an advanced exemption option. If a transgender student-athlete undergoing hormonal therapy is flagged during a drug test, they would not be penalized as long as they can provide doctor-issued confirmation of their hormone treatment plan.

For those who are not willing to disclose that information, they would likely be flagged for a doping violation. This would usually result in at least a four-year competition ban, according to Paul Melia, president of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES), which governs the Canadian anti-doping program.

“We certainly understand and respect the privacy of the individual,” said Melia, stressing that the CCES treats this information “extremely confidentially.”

“But when it comes to applying the rules of anti-doping, unfortunately to apply them in a way that the athlete can’t hide behind certain rules, the rule of anti-doping is fairly intrusive.”

Beyond this issue, the U Sports policy guidance document will include recommendations on how to foster a respectful competition environment.

“[There are] little things like scripts for your public address announcer to reiterate that heckling has no place [in sport] … There’s a difference between cheering on your team and harassing a member of another team,” said Goldstein.

He then stressed that the U Sports’ guidance document would evolve as schools roll out the policy and learn from the process.

“To be clear, it’s going to be a living and breathing document that is going to change over time,” he said. “This will just be the first iteration of it, and as we learn more, it will develop and grow over time.”

An evolving issue

The question of what genders are explicitly recognized in sports will not be resolved by the implementation of this policy. For instance, its current language does not address student-athletes, who don’t identify with the gender binary.

Goldstein pointed out that U Sports are still divided by gender, so the immediate solution is simply to allow student-athletes to change team between academic years — though not within an academic year.

Melia acknowledged that the CCES will continue exploring the topic of gender in sports, but this doesn’t mean that it is currently actively working on the subject of non-binary student-athletes.

“We’re going to continue and be interested in schools in Canada who have adopted the [U Sports] policy, their experience in implementing it and issues that arise — this may be one of them,” he said. “In addressing those issues, we might come a place where we want to explicitly address this issue.”