A new policy from U Sports is ensuring transgender student-athletes have equal opportunities to play varsity sports, regardless of their gender.
Announced on Wednesday, the new policy allows student-athletes to compete on the varsity team that corresponds with either their sex assigned at birth or their gender identity, provided they comply with the Canadian Anti-Doping Program.
David Goldstein, the chief operating officer of U Sports, said he’s proud of the policy, which was developed by the U Sports Equity Committee after two years of research and consultation with members and outside experts.
“We see a tremendous amount of value in the opportunity to participate in varsity university sports,” said Goldstein. “There are transgender students on campus and we needed a policy to clarify how they’re able to partake in that as well.”
U Sports isn’t the first to introduce a policy for transgender athletes — the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) have policies of their own — but Goldstein said the U Sports policy is more inclusive, particularly when it comes to athletes transitioning from male to female.
“Most policies . . . require that transgender females undertake some hormone treatment for a year before they’re able to compete as females,” said Goldstein. “Our policy doesn’t have that requirement . . . as long as you’re in compliance with the anti-doping program, you can compete.”
The only other caveat is student-athletes can only compete with one gender each academic year. But, they can switch teams between years — a decision that seeks to open doors for students who transition while attending university.
It’s an inclusive policy that’s received praise across the country, most notably from Canada’s transgender community.
Jacob Roy, who grew up playing competitive sports as a young girl in Saint John, N.B., before transitioning in 2016, said he’s excited about the policy, and what it means for inclusivity on campuses.
“We’re starting to show inclusion within our schools,” said Roy. “We’re starting to show that trans people and gender nonconforming people all have a place within our universities, as well as wherever they choose for that place to be.”
Roy said the policy also allows transgender student-athletes to maintain their identity at university — a luxury he wasn’t afforded.
As a student at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), Roy hoped to participate in varsity athletics throughout his transition. But after rejections from the men’s soccer and rugby teams, he decided to quit sports.
Looking back, Roy said the U Sports policy likely would’ve changed his decision to quit.
“I think if I would’ve come into university knowing that I would’ve been welcomed on a team and that there would’ve been this policy . . . I think that would’ve not only made me more comfortable to stay and play, but like I [belonged].”
It’s this sense of belonging that Jeff Giles, interim director of athletics at Ryerson, said he hopes the new policy will instill.
“Students thinking about coming to Ryerson, or any Canadian university, this opens the door for them and provides a welcoming, caring place to play.”
Giles isn’t aware of any transgender athletes currently competing at Ryerson, but he said that future prospects will be invited to play at Ryerson just like any other Ram.
“Ryerson tries to recruit the best athletes,” said Giles. “If an athlete happens to be the best, it doesn’t matter if they’re transgender.”
While it sounds simple, Lisen Moore, chair of the U Sports equity committee and manager of varsity sports at McGill University, said she anticipates schools will need help implementing the policy.
To assist all 56 U Sports member schools, Moore said she’s working with the rest of the equity committee to develop a guidance document. At the same time, she said they’ll be busy reviewing the literature on transgender athletes to make sure the policy stays current.
“There’s a regular and dramatic change in the information and reports around transgender athletes,” said Moore. “But this policy can change with the times. If there’s new information, the policy will adapt.”
While Roy is pleased with the policy’s adaptability, he has some concerns.
For one, he worries that transgender student-athletes could be subject to an increase in testing or discriminatory policies around hormone treatments. He also worries that athletes will be discriminated against by other students.
“There needs to be a very strict policy around harassment and teasing that may go on,” said Roy. You’re going to get people at all stages of their transition . . . and sadly to say, even though we do live in Canada, [discrimination is] prevalent and we need to recognize that.”
To ensure inclusivity, Roy stresses the need for on-campus education sessions on trans issues, and education for coaches and medical staff to learn the correct terminology for when working with transgender students.
“I would love to see some training go on and constantly recognizing that it is a work in progress,” said Roy. “These are great steps but it shouldn’t stop here.”