Football, the women’s league and transgender players

Screen-shot-2015-03-05-at-4.57.08-PM-1140x637I wasn’t going to say much about Hannah Mouncey’s attempt to nominate for the 2018 AFLW draft as a transgender woman or that she wasn’t allowed to. I’d tweeted a couple of times about it and didn’t plan on saying more, but between the outrage among those of a progressive tilt that the Australian Football League wouldn’t let her and the outrage among those of a conservative persuasion that she was even considered in the first place I feel a few things are being slightly overlooked.

First let’s get a popular myth that doesn’t stand more than a few seconds of logical scrutiny out of the way, that ‘he’ is only doing it because he couldn’t cut it in men’s competition and this way ‘he’ can monster the girls out of the way and just win all the time.

Chaps, hands up all of you who would take female hormones and live as a woman, much less part company with your twig and berries, just to beat women at sport. Come on, let’s see those hands. Anyone? Bueller?

Yeah, me neither. This is not like that notoriously non-disabled Spanish basketball team who all pretended to have learning disabilities so they could win gold at the Paralympics. They didn’t have to take drugs and mess around with their bodies’ chemistry, though you have to wonder if some unrelated drug experimentation made it seem like a good idea.

You’d also have to wonder if drug experimentation is necessary to believe any bloke would do that just to improve the chances of winning a bit of tin against a field of women, especially as he’d have to keep up the pretence for many years afterwards or risk being called out as the ludicrous bullshitting fuckstronaut that he would inarguably be and made to give the medal back. So on the balance of probability I’m prepared to believe Hannah Mouncey genuinely identifies as a woman and has transitioned for entirely honest reasons.

With that out of the way, on to physique. Hannah is, we’re told, 190cm or 6′ 2″ and change and about 90kg or a couple of hundred pounds (a smidge over 14 stone for fellow Brits of a certain age since we’re about the only ones who still like to think of weight in stone). It goes without saying she isn’t someone whose physical size makes them easy to overlook. She was above average before she transitioned and she’s certainly above average for Australian females now. Okay, that’s the blindingly obvious out of the way. Now for the extremely important ‘but’:

But being above average is not the same thing as being outside the envelope, and Mouncey really isn’t. 6′ 2″? Half the Australian netball and women’s basketball players are bigger, and if you look beyond the elite international teams to the senior nationwide leagues there are even more tall women.

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Here’s Caitlin Bassett being annoyingly 6′ 5″

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Here’s Gretel Tippett, sister of AFL club Sydney Swan’s ruck/forward Kurt, being Hannah Mouncey’s height.

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Here’s Liz Cambage being as tall as LeBron frickin’ James…

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…and slam dunking the ball like him.*

It’s almost like sports involving balls being put into hoops ten feet off the floor attract tall people, and as far as I’ve heard none of them are trans-anything except maybe those netballers who were trans-Tasman champions. Not all of Australia’s female basketballers and netballers are Amazonian semi-giants because obviously these are team sports in which speed and skill and so on are also factors, but height is an advantage and women Hannah Mouncey’s height just aren’t unusual in senior competitions.

Having had a quick look at current player profiles Mouncey seems to be on the taller side of the median, but not by much and certainly not the tallest. As she’s well within the IOC’s testosterone limit for female competition one assumes that had she wanted to play netball or basketball she’d have been as eligible as anyone born a girl, and that if her testosterone level ever exceeded the limit she’d fail a dope test sooner or later and end up suspended. Which of course applies to other female athletes too as nobody wants to go back to the days of East German shot putters pumped full of male hormones having to shave between rounds.

And by the sounds of it that IOC testosterone limit is what the AFL required of Hannah Mouncey in order to let her play women’s footy for Ainslie in the Canberra Women’s League, where she played earlier this year and will again next season as a ruck. If that link is TL,DR then the job of an AFL ruckman is to win the ball after stoppages by doing this (AFL fans can skip a couple of paragraphs at this point).

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Okay, maybe one with only a second of game time left to play wasn’t a very good example. The idea is to jump up and get possession or, since this will often mean being insta-tackled by the opposition, to knock it down to a teammate. Like this:

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Also an example of the ‘third man up’ getting it badly wrong

Is height useful for a ruckman? Yep, they’re usually among the tallest players on the team, and if they’re not the tallest they can probably jump the highest. That applies in AFLW too, and so you might be forgiven for assuming that Hannah Mouncey’s height gives her and any team she’s on a massive advantage.

Well….. no. It’s handy, sure, but on it’s own a tall ruck guarantees winning neither the ball or the game. A super-tall ruck with poor abilities at knocking the ball to teammates might get first touch most of the time but lose possession to opponents more often than not. A tall and skilled ruck who plays with mediocre midfielders might succeed, only to see teammates lose the ball instead. And if the coach has a bad game plan, or even if the opposition coach just has a better one, all the players’ attributes and efforts might be in vain anyway.

“Sure, yeah, but that’s just theory, isn’t it, Exile? It’s not like that in real life.” Eeehh, well, you say that but the tallest AFLW player I know of is Erin McKinnon, the Greater Western Sydney Giants’ ruck and coincidentally only 1cm shorter than Hannah Mouncey. Despite McKinnon’s height the Giants managed only one win and a draw in 2017. Similarly in the men’s AFL competition the tallest players are Fremantle’s ruck, Aaron Sandilands and Collingwood’s ruck/forward Mason Cox, both at 211cm (6′ 11″). Since they drafted Sandilands in 2003 Freo have finished the home and away season at the top, the bottom, and nearly everywhere in between, but only qualified for finals 7 times and made the Grand Final just once. And lost. Cox has only been playing a couple of seasons, in which Collingwood finished 12th and 13th out of 18.

So I’m saying the AFL were wrong in blocking Hannah Mouncey from the draft? Er, no, because I honestly don’t know if that’s the right answer. I’m saying I can’t see a good reason for saying she should never be allowed to play footy at AFLW level, but that’s not quite what’s happened. She’s been told not this year, but the AFL did not say never (my emphasis).

A subcommittee comprising of AFL Commissioners Jason Ball, Gabrielle Trainor and Major General Simone Wilkie, AFL General Manager Inclusion and Social Policy, Tanya Hosch and AFL General Counsel and General Manager Game Development, Andrew Dillon, reviewed the nomination.

[…]

The subcommittee’s decision took into account the stage of maturity of the AFLW competition, its current player cohort and Ms Mouncey’s individual circumstances.

This decision solely relates to Ms Mouncey’s nomination for the 2018 AFLW draft and participation in the 2018 AFLW competition.

Ms Mouncey may nominate for future AFLW drafts and for registration in other Australian Football competitions.

Note that the subcommittee didn’t consist of ancient straight white guys, and in Jason Ball even had an LGBT+ representative. I’m not sure I’m in a position to say they got it wrong, even though I do think their decision is harsh and even unfair on an individual level.

The thing is, unfortunate and arguable as it may be, individual concerns probably weren’t the only factors under consideration. AFLW is very much in a nascent stage and the league is clearly considering things carefully with a view to long term viability. Thirteen of the AFL’s eighteen clubs applied for an AFLW license ahead of the inaugural season. Five were disappointed even though they got provisional licences for when the league expands. They were then disappointed again when the AFL decided against expansion in 2018 as it felt the talent pool, while growing, was not yet large enough to support more teams. As AFLW will expand by only two clubs in 2019 for similar reasons I imagine St Kilda, Richmond and West Coast were disappointed again recently, but are probably being too polite to mention it having been granted entry in 2020.

How does Hannah Mouncey fit into all this? If the question was being asked in 2020 I expect she’d be fitting in as somebody’s no. 1 ruck in a 12 club AFLW competition. I imagine the AFL accepted it as inevitable that a transgender player would ask to play women’s footy at the top level sooner or later, but possibly didn’t anticipate it being as soon as ahead of the second season’s draft and weren’t really ready for it.

Had she been a couple of inches shorter and a couple of kilos lighter, or had the league been a couple of years older and, like the more established netball and basketball leagues, had more tall players then I can imagine the decision going in her favour. The AFL has put a Pride game on the fixture and has publicly backed same sex marriage in this dumb survey-not-a-plebsicite vote we’re having, and has politely refuted opposition to both by making good arguments for taking those positions. It isn’t afraid to stand it’s ground against crusty dinosaurs who don’t like gay people being at the and/or playing footy, so I’m inclined to think it’d want to let a transgender woman play AFLW regardless of dinosaurs (and probably TERFs) but at this point in time feels it has to think about the “maturity of the AFLW competition, its current player cohort and Ms Mouncey’s individual circumstances.”

Objectively that’s stupid, I know. Someone has to be the biggest player, just as someone has to be the shortest or oldest or youngest, and when Hannah Mouncey would be the tallest by only a narrow margin and around the same weight as a couple of other players why should anyone care if it’s her? It’s not like players in the Canberra league can’t cope with her. The libertarian in me says let her nominate and get drafted by any club that thinks she fits their needs.

But my internal libertarian often needs reminding by my internal sports fan that the AFL practises sports socialism more often than sports free marketeering, as evidenced by the fact that there’s a draft and a salary cap and a bunch of other things intended to hamstring successful teams over time and allow strugglers a chance to climb. Their ideal is a prediction defying competition in which any given team might beat any other, though of course that would require an insane and unreasonable level of micro management on the AFL’s part.

Blocking Hannah Mouncey from nominating this year feels like insane and unreasonable micro managing, but I don’t have the info those making the decision had. In their position it’s possible I’d be saying “maybe next year” as well, but in any case I hope they meant it. One thing I can’t argue with is that the AFL haven’t handled the situation well and it’d be pretty shitty if it turned out they’d given her false hopes.

 

*While blogging this I discovered Liz Cambage was the first female to slam dunk a ball in Olympic competition.

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Posted on October 20, 2017, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Football, the women’s league and transgender players.

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