Sport and transgender people: a systematic review of the literature relating to sport participation and competitive sport policies

Background: Whether transgender people should be able to compete in sport in accordance with their gender identity is a widely contested question within the literature and among sport organisations, fellow competitors, and spectators. Due to concerns surrounding transgender people (especially transgender females) having an athletic advantage, several sport organisations place restrictions on transgender competitors (e.g., must have undergone gender confirming surgery). In addition, some transgender people who engage in sport, both competitively and for leisure, report discrimination and victimisation. Objective: To the authors’ knowledge, there has been no systematic review of the literature pertaining to sport participation and competitive sport policies in transgender people. Therefore, this review aimed to address this gap in the literature. Method: Eight research articles and 31 sport policies were reviewed. Results: In relation to sport-related physical activity, this review found the lack of inclusive and comfortable environments to be the primary barrier to participation for transgender people. This review also found transgender people had a mostly negative experience in competitive sport due to the restrictions sport policy placed on them. The majority of transgender competitive sport policies that were reviewed were not evidence-based. Conclusion: Currently there is no direct or consistent research that suggests transgender females (or males) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g., cross-sex hormones, gender confirming surgery) and, therefore, competitive sport policies that place restrictions on transgender people needs to be considered and potentially revised.