Health Secretary Mark Butler has defended FINA’s decision to effectively ban transgender athletes from competitions, saying elite athletes need to weigh “factors like strength and endurance” when deciding who can compete.
“Ultimately, sports governing bodies must regulate the operation of their sport, particularly at the elite level,” Butler told ABC on Tuesday.
“Sports have had the legal tools here in Australia for many years to make decisions about participation in their sport, particularly where their sport involves factors such as strength and endurance. And that seems to have happened on a global scale in terms of swimming. So that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
FINA announced on Monday that it has decided that transgender athletes can only compete in women’s swimming if they have completed their transition by age 12, meaning they must start taking puberty blockers from an early age .
International Rugby League announced on Tuesday it will follow FINA’s lead and the NRL is weighing its position.
Butler said transgender sports rules are part of “a highly sensitive debate that needs to be conducted as respectfully as possible”.
“We have to be very careful not to politicize [this debate]and not putting vulnerable Australians in the middle of a political debate,” he said.
Asked whether Australia should invest more in transgender medical research so sports governing bodies can make their decisions with better science, Butler said research spending would be decided by independent experts “in a peer-reviewed manner and not by politicians who Make decisions about a specific research project. “
Referring to rising COVID-19 cases and the ongoing pandemic death toll, Butler said Australia still has “quite a way to get through this pandemic” and he wants to improve refresher rates, particularly in aged care.
Butler said COVID-19 vaccines could be approved for children under the age of 5 within weeks, with the Therapeutic Goods Administration currently reviewing Moderna’s application to have its vaccine approved for that age group.
“It is appropriate that these agencies feel that they are able to do their job, their legislative work, in a reasonable time frame,” he said. “And I expect that to happen in the coming weeks.”