Football fans express solidarity with transwoman player who quit after rivals refused to compete

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Football fans have expressed solidarity with a transwoman player who quit after rivals refused to compete.

Francesca Needham, 30, withdrew from South Yorkshire-based Rossington Main Ladies "for the foreseeable future" after opponents refused to play against the team due to safety concerns.

It comes after two matches in the Sheffield and Hallamshire Women's League were cancelled after a player suffered a broken knee when defending a shot from the 30-year-old. 

Needham will "step down from playing football" for the sake of the club and has been threatening to sue for discrimination, claiming eligibility to play according to Football Association policies.

The FA says transgender players over 16 are approved on a case-by-case basis. If a player satisfies certain hormone-based requirements it is likely they will be allowed to play.

Needham's fans and teammates saddened by the situation have pledged their support with the message "in unity we defeat discrimination".

On Facebook, Needham said: "[We have] faced challenges from teams unwilling to play against us while I am on the field.

Francesca Needham withdrew from South Yorkshire-based Rossington Main Ladies

A player ended up with a broken knee when defending a shot from the 30-year-old transgender player 

"This unfortunate circumstance has prompted me to investigate pursuing a case of discrimination, as I believe it represents a breach of a code of conduct regarding diversity and inclusion, as well as safeguarding of adults in football established by both the Football Association and the Sheffield and Hallamshire Women and Girls League.

"It's disheartening to acknowledge that this situation contradicts everything in the diversity and inclusion policies, given that I have diligently met every single requirement set out by the Football Association to play.

"I sincerely hope that this issue of perceived discrimination against me can be resolved peacefully and promptly."

TalkTV's Julia Hartley-Brewer said: "In a sport like football where it's not just unfairness of women having to play against a biological man, that's what a transwoman is, a man, it's when there's physical contact ... It's really worrying."

Needham has been threatening to sue for discrimination

On Facebook, Needham said: "[We have] faced challenges from teams unwilling to play against us"

Fiona McAnena, from Fair Play for Women, added: "There isn't an any more sensible way of organising a contact sport like football other than dividing by sex and the issue here is not discrimination because this player is trans, it's as you say, the problem is it's not safe or fair for the women if they have to have a male player on the pitch.

"The only thing that matters in sport is your body, your sex, your age, and on top of that your skill, and so it's very unfair on all the women and the thing that's troubling to us at Fair Play for Women is why everyone thinks that the feelings of this person need to be validated and recognised as a woman matter more than fairness and safety for all the women who play in this league."

Needham has played two matches this season after being cleared to compete by the FA.

The trans player has only played two matches this season

Needham hopes "this issue of perceived discrimination against [her] can be resolved peacefully"

During the first match, the opponent's manager realised after five minutes that Needham was a transwoman.

The manager said: "It was obvious. Unfortunately, the FA allowed it to happen but didn't let anyone know. She's quite a big strong player. People have refused to play because they are worried about the safety of the players.

'My players were backing out of challenges as psychologically it's quite a big thing, when you are playing against a biological man it's quite scary. They were terrified.'

Launching a fundraising site to help her, a teammate commented: "[She is facing] serious consequences of an unfortunate grey area in women's football which is going to be extremely detrimental to her work and personal life."

Meanwhile, the manager of one of the teams who refused to play said : "I have 16 and 17 year old players playing for me and their parents weren't too keen to put their welfare at risk."

Transgender athletes have been banned from taking part in elite women’s competitions in other sports such as swimming, cycling, athletics, rugby league and rugby union.

It was announced on Tuesday male-born transgender players will not be able to play international women’s cricket under new gender eligibility regulations announced by the International Cricket Council (ICC).