Aussie rules football player Hannah Mouncey will not make history next season as the first transgender woman to play in the AFL Women’s division. On Tuesday, the AFL blocked her from entering the 2017 draft, which was held Wednesday, pointing to her “unreasonable physical advantage over her opponents,” according to the AFL’s website.
The AFL created a subcommittee, which undertook an analysis of Mouncey’s strength, stamina and physique, and compared it with that of the other players in the AFLW, which recently completed its first season. The league did not, however, detail how it came to its conclusion.
“Hannah’s passion for football is undeniable, and I want to thank her and her team for their constructive participation in the decision-making process,” Tanya Hosch, the AFL’s general manager of inclusion and social policy, said Tuesday. “It was important to involve the right stakeholders to review all the information and data available. Every case will be decided on its own merits along with the individual circumstances of each future nominee.”
The AFL left open the possibility that Mouncey, who plays Aussie rules football in another league out of Canberra, could be nominated again for future drafts but indicated she’d undergo another extensive reevaluation.
Mouncey regretfully accepted the league’s decision Tuesday, releasing a short statement that the AFL posted on its site.
“While I am extremely disappointed with the AFL’s decision regarding my participation in [Wednesday’s] AFLW draft, I thank them for the genuine way in which they approached my situation,” Mouncey said.
She later took to Twitter to wish those in the draft “good luck.”
The decision was controversial. While some people lauded it, including many on Twitter who used vulgar and offensive language to describe Mouncey, others, including some within the Aussie football community as well as some sports journalists and trans community activists, criticized the decision.
Ainslie’s Lee Phillips, who runs the club Mouncey most recently played for, reiterated after the decision Tuesday that Ainslie would welcome Mouncey back because the team is “all about inclusion,” Australia’s the Age reports.
At least one sports journalist also spoke up on Mouncey’s behalf, criticizing the AFL’s decision in a long essay.
“The AFL has shown clear disrespect to Mouncey in the timing of the announcement,” wrote journalist Kate O’Halloran, who covers Aussie rules football for the Guardian. “The AFL has been aware of her desire to be drafted since at least 23 June — when Melbourne inquired as to her availability — but waited until the last possible moment (late afternoon on the day before the draft) to make the announcement.”
O’Halloran also questioned the AFL’s reasoning that Mouncey, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 220 pounds, would have more physical strength than some other women’s AFL players, including Erin McKinnon, an 18-year-old drafted last year who plays for the Greater Western Sydney Giants. McKinnon also stands 6-2, although her weight is not listed on the team’s website.
Some members of the trans community also criticized the AFL’s decision, including Australian writer and activist Allison Gallagher.
Calling the decision “bull[crap],” Gallagher derided the AFL’s vagueness in its reasoning that Mouncey would have an unfair physical advantage.
“For the record, Mouncey easily meets the International Olympic Committee’s guidelines for transgender athletes’ eligibility — comfortably sitting below the 10 nanomole per liter requirements around testosterone levels,” Gallagher wrote on popular Australian culture site Junkee.
As for the question of Mouncey’s size, Gallagher scoffed at that being an “unreasonable physical advantage,” as well.
“There is such a significant variance in athletes’ body types, bone density, muscle mass and so on that if you’re going to disqualify trans women based on these distinctions, why stop there?” Gallagher asked. “The AFL and any other sporting body that denies trans athletes access to the sporting arena can pretend like these decisions are based on fairness and physical science — but they’re not.”
Mouncey, a former men’s handball player, began living as a woman eight years ago, according to the Canberra Times, but she only began hormone therapy to transition in November 2015. She made the decision to transition while still on Australia’s men’s national handball team, which failed to qualify for the Olympics. By July 2016, Gallagher had a new goal in mind — to make the women’s Olympic handball team. Her quest ultimately did not come to fruition. Although Mouncey’s hormone levels were acceptably within the limits as laid out by the IOC, the Olympics requires a transgender woman be on hormone therapy for at least 12 months prior to entering competition. Australia’s women’s team also failed to qualify for the Olympics.