Hannah Mouncey deserved more than the AFL's policy on the run, writes Richard Hinds

Hannah Mouncey deserved more than the AFL's policy on the run, writes Richard Hinds

Hannah Mouncey deserved more than the AFL's policy on the run, writes Richard Hinds

Updated 20 October 2017, 20:15 AEDT

The AFL cannot justify the confusion over transgender athlete Hannah Mouncey's bid to play in the AFLW which left her open to hatred and riducule, writes Richard Hinds.

The AFL might legally, and perhaps even practically, defend the exclusion of transgender woman Hannah Mouncey from the AFLW.

But it cannot justify a process that left Mouncey unfairly exposed to hatred and ridicule and, in turn, had the potential to scar any transgender person subjected to the hideous backlash.

Just last month the AFL's finest gathered outside headquarters for a photo opportunity in front of a sign that had been changed from AFL to YES.

Adroitly as ever, the AFL was positioning itself as a progressive, inclusive organisation, regardless of the misgivings of those fans offering the laughable rejoinder that 'politics and sport don't mix'.

The AFL argues the Mouncey decision was not as simple as advocating same sex marriage and that denying her a place in this year's AFLW draft does not diminish its advocacy of "inclusiveness".

Boiled down, the AFL decided that Mouncey, a 190cm, 100kg former Australian handball representative who transitioned last year and played for Ainslie in the ACT women's league, was too big and too strong for the AFLW.

Despite hormone treatment she had not yet transitioned enough.

Of course, if size really was the issue you could put 10 Mounceys through the holes in the AFL argument.

As many observed: if Mouncey presents a danger in the AFLW, is the AFL negligent allowing Fremantle's 211 cm behemoth Aaron Sandilands on the same field as Brisbane's 173cm Lewis Taylor?

And why can Mouncey still play against presumably smaller and less muscular women in Canberra, but not the AFLW's highly trained elite?

Perhaps the most eloquent response was made in Fairfax Media by Dale Sheridan, a transgender woman and lawyer.

"Mouncey's physical attributes simply make up the range and diversity in women," she wrote.

"Women come in all shapes and sizes. I am sure there are basketballers or netballers that are taller and other female athletes that weigh more than Mouncey."

Mouncey graciously accepted the AFL decision and tweeted her best wishes to those drafted: "I can't wait to see you all at the highest level and to play with and against you back in Canberra next year."

But if Mouncey's response spared the AFL some blushes, the league's process and timing was highly damaging.

Not just for her but for all transgender people.

Late decision ensures maximum exposure for case

That the AFL was unprepared for Mouncey's case and did not announce its decision until the eve of the draft ensured maximum exposure.

So, inevitably, her rejection became an excuse for some to spew vile insults at transgender women across social media and radio talkback.

You did not have to go far below the line on stories about Mouncey to see praise for the AFL's decision peppered with humiliating terms like "it", "freak" and even worse.

The AFL might not feel responsible for the mindset of its most ill-informed supporters, and any sport has a limited capacity to battle ingrained prejudice. But surely, in running the AFLW, it should be prepared for more than just fluffy photo opps?

Such was the media frenzy during the inaugural AFLW season bemused rivals could have been forgiven for thinking the AFL invented female sport and not merely made a belated investment in order to get a greater share of female athletes/fans/sponsors/government funding.

With these financial and reputational gains came a responsibility to cover every base. The AFL was well-warned that it should plan for the inclusion of transgender athletes.

This was a time for strong guidelines and leadership, not policy on the run.

Yet at the AFLW draft, 18 year-old women who should have been talking about kicks and marks were put in the awkward position of answering questions about the AFLW's still fluid and contradictory transgender policy.

This as much as anything demonstrated the AFL's lack of preparedness and leadership.

Where were the executives who posed happily in front of the 'YES' sign?

Again, regardless of whether Mouncey should have been allowed to play, hatred and prejudice festers in this leadership vacuum.

A similar vacuum was created when the AFL baulked at condemning the booing of Adam Goodes because some at commission level misunderstood the racist origins of the taunting or — worse — did not want to offend the perpetrators.

In both the Mouncey and Goodes cases, the AFL's inaction helped to embolden the most hateful and ignorant of the game's supporters.

The insults levelled at Mouncey will not merely have had a personal impact. They will have hurt any transgender person exposed to the hatred incited.

Coalition Senators Matt Canavan and Bridget McKenzie said recently it was unfair that suicide rates among LGBTQ be raised during the same sex marriage debate. This stark reality allegedly constitutes "emotional blackmail".

This is patently absurd. Surely the potential outcomes of prejudice are even more relevant when we discuss means to address LGBTQ issues.

Whether or not Hannah Mouncey should be playing in the AFLW next season, she and other transgender women deserved much more than the confusing and indecisive way her case was handled.

The AFL wants to quite literally brand itself as an inclusive and caring organisation.

This time it made itself a lightning rod for the worst kind of hate and prejudice.

For more on the Hannah Mouncey controversy and the big sporting issues of the week watch Offsiders with Gerard Whateley — 10am Sunday ABC TV