Amateur football club forced out of 'inclusive' FA league over 'outright transphobic' policy

  • Report by ITV News Digital Journalist Jocelyn Evans

A newly formed amateur LGBTQIA+ football team in London has been forced to boycott an FA league after officials allegedly said a transgender, non-binary player shouldn’t be allowed to play.

The Super 5 League brands itself as an LGBTQIA+ friendly space, listing one of its shared values as "creating a safe and progressive platform for women and non-binary players in grassroots football".

Non-binary is a catch-all term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with either ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

But the Camden Bells (a team for women, queer women, trans people and gender non-conforming people) say they have been forced to quit the league, accusing it and the FA of being "outright transphobic."

Multiple other clubs have since joined the boycott.

The league 'follows ten simple rules' including a 'harassment-free experience...regardless of gender, gender identity and expression'. Credit: Super 5 League

Following their first game in the league, an official allegedly approached Bells coach Hannah Thornley to "raise concerns" about one of the players - who is transgender and non-binary.

The Super 5 League official allegedly said the player "shouldn't be allowed to play in a women's league". The official is said to have said he was "worried for future opponents' welfare" should the player continue in the league.

Challenged that this stance was not in keeping with the values the league purports to hold, the official allegedly said he was following FA rules.

The Super 5 League is backed by the FA and sponsored by sporting giant Nike.

The player, said to have been targeted, told ITV News they feel "misled" and even "tricked" by the league after it "was advertised to us as a safe space".

"It clearly isn't a safe space so it's a little bit unnerving that something with such big sponsors and brands, and such an established history, can claim they're a safe space when they're not. It's unnerving."

The player continued that they were "shocked" and "disappointed" at the "horrible" response, especially given the league representative had told all the players at the start of the game "we're all here to have fun and we're all in this together".

"I'm disappointed that something so personal, and medical, has got in the way of something that was supposed to be a bit of fun and community," they told ITV News.

"I think their stance on it is outright transphobic and outdated and in need of quick reform".

They added: "The reason I've not played football as an adult is because I feel like I've never really fitted into girls' teams, and I also didn't fit into boys' teams because of my gender identity - and also because I want to feel comfortable and safe as a minority person."

"To find a league that you think is inclusive was amazing - so it's really sad to hear, once again, it's under false pretence."

Is the FA transphobic?

Coach Thornley took the case to the FA and was met with a "problematic" response, she says, when discussing with a representative.

"She [the FA staff member] was unable to get the player's pronouns right and insisted on calling them by their name, saying it was easier for her than using their pronouns," Thornley claimed.

"I was taken aback, it didn’t feel to me like there was any effort on her part."

The FA policy on transgender players (across domestic football and its competitions) only refers to "he or she" with no mention of people who don't use those pronouns.

Their policy requires players to provide:

  • Medical information/records demonstrating hormone therapy is administered in a verifiable manner

  • Blood testosterone within range for an appropriate length of time so as to minimise any potential advantage

  • Hormone treatment to be verified annually

  • Proof of ID required is identical to that required of all players i.e. passport or driving licence.

Players will then be assessed on a "case by case" basis.

The policy deterred similar clubs from joining competitions elsewhere in the country too, with the Manchester Laces saying they were unable to affiliate with the FA unless one of their players submit to the "intrusive" tests.

The team have now decided to pull out of the league based on their experience and are calling on other teams to do the join them in make a new "truly inclusive" league.

The player told ITV News: "I'm feeling motivated to change things and do something about it (by starting a new league) and try stop this kind of transphobia".Thornley added: "I’m fuming because I believe that the Super 5 League is profiting off using LGBTQIA+ and non-binary friendly language, plastered all over their marketing. They attract big sponsors  because it looks good," she said.

"It’s unacceptable for them to profit off LGBTQIA+ inclusivity if the league is not willing to truly embrace and promote minority groups. Their behaviour to date shows they’re not willing to accept trans and non-binary people unless they fit the mould that works for them," Thornley said.

ITV News has approached Nike for comment.

In an article introducing the league in August 2021 Nike described it as "a place of inclusivity" and "a new era, for a new kind of game play, with new role models bossing a sport that has, in the past, been difficult for them and others to access." Despite saying the league is for "women and non-binary individuals," the brand refers to "girls" in its article.

An FA spokesperson told ITV News: "We are aware of and will look into the issues raised with both the league and affiliated County FA in order to ascertain all of the facts. The FA released its transgender policy in 2014, which outlines ways in which trans people can enjoy playing football. We also commissioned Gendered Intelligence, an organisation which specialises in trans inclusion, to develop guidance on approaches to including trans people in football.

"Our current policy positioning has enabled positive outcomes for trans people, and assisted in allowing participants to continue playing football either in their affirmed gender or in a safe and inclusive environment. We are passionate about ensuring that football is for all and we will continue to work with Gendered Intelligence to provide additional information to supplement our Policy and related guidance, which are currently under review."

On Monday morning, the Super 5 League announced it was suspending all of its fixtures "as part of our ongoing commitment to work with all teams and players to continue to provide a safe and inclusive footballing environment for players."

A statement posted on the league's social media continued: This decision has not been taken lightly and is being done to ensure we can work through the current situation with the level of sensitivity, time and respect that everyone affected deserves, particularly those who are most impacted by current governance on trans and non-binary players' participation in amateur football".