Ellia Green knows all too well what it feels like to be a transgender athlete that isn’t ‘treated like a human being’ – so the Aussie Olympian says the decision of World Athletics (WA) to ban transwomen competing is ‘upsetting’.
President Sebastian Coe, a two-time gold medal-winning runner, announced on Friday that transgender females will no longer be able to compete in female track and field events.
That’s regardless of their testosterone levels or any of the other tests sporting officials usually require transgender athletes to tick off.
It has divided opinion around the sporting world, and ignited a fierce – and sometimes hateful – debate, and Green says that is exactly why the decision is so upsetting.
The rugby sevens star, who was part of Australia’s gold medal winning side at the the Rio 2016 Olympics, transitioned to male after retiring, and said the call would see even more hate directed towards trans athletes.
Australian Olympic gold medallist Ellia Green, a transgender male, has slammed the decision of World Athletics to ban female transgender athletes from competing in female track and field events
Green only transitioned after retiring from a sterling footy career, which included 141 tries (the fourth most in history) and 739 points over 149 Sevens matches for Australia – as well as a host of other honours
‘It (banning transgender females from competing) wasn’t surprising considering what’s going on in the world and the hate and discrimination directed at trans people…it was upsetting to see,’ Green said on Channel 9 on Sunday.
The rampaging winger and human highlights reel represented Australia for almost 10 years, wearing green and gold for 149 games, as well as playing for the Warriors in the 2020 NRLW competition.
But Green – who starred on hit reality show SAS Australia last year, knows a thing or two when it comes to athletics, too.
Green was a talented sprinter at top level before his transition, before being identified as a possible elite recruit for rugby sevens in 2012.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
The 172cm, 78kg wrecking ball went on to score an incredible 141 tries (the fourth most in history) and 739 points over the 149 matches, and was almost impossible to stop once he had a full head of steam.
But that success was masking some tough times.
The 30-year-old realised as a young child that the gender he was assigned at birth was not the identity he felt deep down – and fortunately he has been staunchly supported by long-time partner Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts.
Green and partner Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts have a daughter together, Waitui
Green was a sprinter before being discovered by Rugby Sevens recruiters, and he said that the decision to ban transgender athletes was ‘very upsetting’
In an inspirational video released by the Bingham Cup last August, colloquially known as rugby union’s gay/inclusive World Cup, Green – who has kept the same name – told the world that he had transitioned to male.
‘I just knew it was going to be the most liberating feeling when I had that surgery and to be in the body I knew I had to be,’ he said in the video announcing the transition.
‘That was a bright spark in my mind during these dark times facing demons, but I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel.
‘No one likes to be excluded because of how they identify, it’s like being bullied and judged … and that’s when you see the rates of suicide increase and mental health illness and depression.’
That experience is exactly why he believes the decision of World Athletics to ban female transgender athletes is not only ‘upsetting’, but dangerous.
Green with his partner Vanessa and their daughter Waitui outside their home in Sydney. He said the pair have brought joy to him after some dark times
Green, pictured playing at the beach with Waitui, believes the decision to ban transgender females from track and field will only lead to even more hate and discrimination
‘I think it’s only furthering the marginalisation and discrimination against trans people. It’s something that is already such a huge issue in society, let alone sports,’ he said on Sunday morning.
‘The problems that are faced by transgender people are huge in society. So, to then bring that into sport and the challenges that it faces, it’s a whole other topic.
‘I think that the media and the way that it’s portrayed can do a lot better there’s so many opinions available on social media and abuse directed at the athletes personally. I think there’s a lot to be done in terms of that.’
That’s highlighted by the fact LGBTQ+ rights organisation Stonewall labelled the World Athletics move ‘disappointing – but Fair Play For Women, a UK-based advocacy group, welcomed the move they say ‘protects female sport’.
Green said he believed part of the reasoning for banning female transgender athletes is the fact that, horridly, ‘they aren’t seen as human beings’.
‘I think before that answer is available, we first need to see trans people as human beings. I think the key word there is to be seen,’ he said, when asked where the future lie for female transgender athletes.
‘And I think the transphobia and hate crime towards trans people is something that needs to be dealt with before we can even consider what’s done with sport.
‘I think it’s a very one-sided debate at the moment. We’re not hearing enough of what can benefit sport as a whole by having more involvement of diverse people.’
This is an opinion held by just Green, one of the most high-profile Australian athletes to transition.
Ricki Coughlan, one of the country’s first transgender athletes in professional running, also said the move would embolden the ‘forces of hate’.
Professional runner Ricki Coughlan was one of the first transgender women in the history of Australian sport and is also disappointed by WA’s decision
‘There’s no nice way of putting this,’ she told Reuters.
‘The forces of hate that are out there that don’t want transgender people to exist in our society … will take this as a win and will then say “okay, let’s move onto the next thing”.’
WA President Sebastian Coe said the decision was made after consulting 40 member federations, coaches, athletes, transgender groups, United Nations experts and the IOC.
While some argue that going through male puberty gives transgender women physical advantages, supporters of transgender participation in sports say not enough research has been done into whether transgender women have any advantage.
For Green, he only considered transitioning in retirement, and wanted to be a role model for children who were experiencing enormous hate, to the point where many don’t want to leave.
Ellia Green (left) with mother Yolanta before he transitioned. He wants to be a role model for trans youth who are at a much higher risk of suicide
His emotional coming out video was an attempt to the fact studies say more than 40 per cent of trans youth had considered attempting suicide.
‘After finishing up my rugby career, that was something I was really excited about because I had been planning it for a while. I knew I couldn’t do hormone therapy or surgery during my career … it all happened so quickly,’ Green said last year, retiring after he was left devastated to miss out on the Tokyo Olympics side.
It’s a debate that continues to be fiercely waged online, and many things are far too hateful or graphic to write in a story.
The only other transgender or gender diverse Olympic gold medalists are Caitlyn Jenner and Quinn, who goes by one name and was part of Canada’s winning womens soccer team in Tokyo last year.
For their part, Athletics Australia don’t appear to know what they will do about WA’s ruling, saying in a statement they ‘respected’ the decision, and acknowledged how tough it was for trans athletes to deal with.
Female transgender athletes are now banned from taking part in female track and field events (pictured is Athing Mu winning the Women’s 4x400m relay at the Tokyo Olympics)
‘As a Member Federation of World Athletics, Athletics Australia respects the decision and is required to abide by the rules set out by World Athletics for elite competition,’ the statement said.
‘We acknowledge that this a complex and emotive subject and one that sporting organisations around the world, especially at the elite level, continue to grapple with.
‘We acknowledge the impact a decision like that of World Athletics can have on transgender and DSD athletes and members of the broader community.
‘Athletics Australia supports the WA Council agreement to set up a Working Group to further consult and consider the issue of transgender inclusion and make further recommendations to the Council.
‘Athletics Australia is committed to ensuring that athlete welfare at all levels and inclusion at the community participation level remains a priority in Australian athletics.’