Sabbs Accuse BUCS of “Mass Transphobia”

(Image: Eddie Atkinson)

President of the Sport Union Tanisha Jain, and YUSU President, Pierrick Roger, have openly attacked British Universities and Colleges Sport – the governing body of higher education sport in the U.K. – over their stance on trans rights. 

YUSU took the opportunity in an Instagram post announcing the creation of a limited-term paid role at the Student Union, called the Student Researcher looking into Transgender, Non-Binary, and Gender-Queer inclusion in sport. This role is reputedly the first of its kind in British universities, even arguably in British sport itself. It is designed to have someone with specialist knowledge in this area of intense and complex debate to look at how we can be more inclusive of Trans, NB and gender-queer people in sport. This is happening at a time when there are a lot of reactionary blanket bans being put in place by national and international bodies on trans-participation, usually aimed at transgender men. 

Tanisha and Pierrick did not hold back on their criticisms of BUCS trans-policies saying in the Instagram post: “In this atmosphere of general transphobia in sport (don’t want to name and shame or anything, *cough cough BUCS)*, this work is more than necessary, it’s long overdue.” Included in the post were memes highlighting the position of BUCS on trans-policies, including an Anime gif of a character slapping another character captioned: “Us discovering the mass transphobia in BUCS”.

BUCS guidelines on trans-participation are varied and can be viewed on their website, but notably the guidelines stress: “Where the National Governing body for the sport where the activity is taking place has a policy on transgender participation in sport this shall be followed.”

Furthermore, in a ‘Sabbs in Short’ email to students on the 1st of November, Tanisha announced that the Sport Union was “in the process of launching the first ever LGBTQ+ sports club [at the University], a safe place for anybody and everybody to take part in sports at York.” 

This is part of York’s expanding social sport program and is a mainstay policy as Tanisha promised to make York sport more inclusive.

Whilst these are initiatives are designed to make the sport more accessible, YUSU have run the risk of side-tracking from what is a well-thought through scheme by diving head-first in a finger-pointing competition at BUCS. They are also  at risk of defamation, although a muted response by BUCS to these allegations suggest otherwise. 

YUSU have gone for a Hail Mary and it could work. Maybe BUCS trans guidelines are intrinsically transphobic and this policy announcement could make real headway into making sport at the University, and universities UK-wide more accessible for all. But, I feel that YUSU have gone about this in the wrong way, and are in serious danger of appearing to be tokenistic rather than achieving genuine equality at York. 

BUCS commented to Vison: “At BUCS, we recognise that the participation of a transgender athlete in competitive sport must not be restricted unless it is proportionate to the aim of securing safe and/or fair competition. BUCS relies on the expertise of National Governing Bodies, and follows the policy on transgender participation relevant to the sport and location where it is taking place. If the National Governing Body doesn’t have a policy on transgender participation, the International Federation policy on transgender participation is followed. More information on what to do if the NGB or International federation do not have a policy and our full regulations can be found on the BUCS website.” 

Tanisha, York Sport Union President commented:

“This research role was launched to start a conversation and look into the lived experiences many of our students face when trying to participate in sport. We hope it will be the basis of a policy that we can use on campus to make sports more inclusive but also to submit a proposal to BUCS for them to review their policies. Prior to launching the role we consulted the network and students who are part of the community and we had an overwhelmingly positive response, and we hope that the community feels safe and supported when speaking to us.”

Pierrick, Union President also responded:

“Calling BUCS transphobic is not defamatory. This statement is based on literature referenced in the original post which indicates BUCS regulations regularly and consistently discriminate against certain type of bodies, transgender people amongst the most seriously affected. Currently, some of our players are unable to play sport at a competitive level like their peers because of these outdated policies. We find this unfair and unjust and we wholeheartedly call it what it is: transphobia. We do not view trans, non-binary or gender queer people as tokenistic and hope that the research we produce will directly contribute to ameliorating the experience of all athletes. This is research BUCS, as the specialist in the room, should have commissioned themselves a long time ago.”