The Football Association says it is “working to find a resolution” after Telegraph Sport’s revelations that at least four women’s teams in a Sheffield league are refusing to play a team whose transgender player has been accused of seriously injuring an opponent.
Under mounting pressure to change its transgender policy, with several sides boycotting Rossington Ladies amid worries over their safety, the FA confirms it is reviewing its rules on inclusion. As it stands, it states that players are entitled to play in a league of their “affirmed gender” and that each application will be considered on its individual merits, based on the “safety of the applicant and other players” and fair competition”. The blood testosterone levels of any transgender players are supposed to be checked each year.
But the affected teams in the Sheffield and Hallamshire Women and Girls League argue that their situation is neither fair nor safe, with Rossington Ladies’ Francesca Needham, who is openly trans, allegedly connected to an incident that has left an opposition player out for the rest of the season. It is understood that the injury, sustained when Needham accidentally struck a ball against the player’s knee, has had gravely debilitating effects for the woman’s day-to-day life.
Rossington Ladies acknowledge that one of their players, in the normal course of play, caused a “serious injury to a footballer, which will affect her home life as well as her future in football”, but claim that the accident was due to “passion and commitment from a very talented player”.
Needham, 31, has since withdrawn from competition “for the foreseeable future” in response to the opponents’ boycott but now plans to pursue a case for discrimination, writing: “I sincerely hope that this issue of perceived discrimination against me can be resolved peacefully and promptly, with the support of the Football Association and the policies they have written and approved.”
The effects of the Needham controversy could be profound: over 50 transgender players are believed to be registered in women’s leagues in England, heightening the urgency for the FA to act. “This issue is complex and constantly evolving, and like many other national governing bodies in sport, we are currently reviewing our transgender policy for English football to ensure it is inclusive, fair and safe for all,” an FA spokesperson said.
Football is increasingly an outlier in how slowly it has responded to this issue, with the major Olympic sports of athletics, swimming and cycling all having moved to restrict the women’s category to those born female. Cricket is the latest sport to intervene, with the International Cricket Council announcing on Tuesday that it would be banning biological males from the international women’s game.
Explaining that the step had been taken to protect women’s safety after a nine-month review, the ICC said: “The new policy is based on the following principles, in order of priority: Protection of the integrity of the women’s game, safety, fairness and inclusion. This means any male-to-female participants who have been through any form of male puberty will not be eligible to compete in the international women’s game, regardless of any surgery or gender reassignment treatment they may have undertaken.”