National MPs have accepted a petition challenging guidelines on transgender people in sport.
The petition from Save Women's Sports Australasia calls for more consultation on draft principles produced by Sport New Zealand, which they claim raise "safety and fairness" issues and has the backing of dozens of elite athletes.
But Sports Minister Grant Robertson says the petition appears to have "conflated" two discussions: the guidelines focused on grassroots sports and the principle of increasing participation - not elite-level sports, rules for which were largely determined by international bodies.
The guidelines - seen by the Herald - focus on community sport and the principle of inclusion, stating "transgender players have the right to play in the gender that they identify with".
They cite evidence around the barriers New Zealand's roughly 50,000 trans and non-binary people face in playing sport and the associated severe mental health effects.
But this has irked some of New Zealand's most successful sportspeople, 56 of whom backed the petition and penned an open letter to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Robertson citing concerns around "fairness and safety in all sport" and arguing the guidelines ignored the rights of female athletes.
Among them were former Olympians Barbara Kendall, Lorraine Moller and Dean Kent, former Olympic chef de mission and Emeritus Professor David Gerrard, New York marathon winner Alison Roe, and All Black Jeff Wilson.
Speaking on the steps of Parliament, petition spokeswoman Ro Edge said more than 5300 New Zealanders had signed the petition in less than two weeks.
It was concerning Robertson had prioritised inclusion and ignored their concerns, which had been raised through the consultation process, she said.
They wanted the guidelines to go to all sporting organisations for consultation, she said.
Edge said excluding transwomen from competing in any women's sports was not their end goal.
"They should be able to compete in sport - how that looks and how we make that work so we also protect fairness and safety of female athletes, that is what we need to discuss."
National sports and recreation spokesman Mark Mitchell said he was proud to accept the petition "on behalf of the National caucus".
"A lot of work" needed to be done around the guidelines, particularly how they would apply to different sport levels and contact and non-contact sports, he said.
It had "nothing to do with anti-trans", he said.
"Let me be clear this is nothing to do with anti-trans. It is finding a pathway to include everybody in sport. This is about let's have proper engagement among sports and codes."
The draft report cites research Counting Ourselves from the University of Waikato, which found 61 per cent of transgender participants were worried about the way they would be treated in competitive sport.
About 50 per cent of the group actively avoid sport because of perceived discrimination and rates of participation were about 50 per cent lower than the general population.
The research also found much higher rates of mental illness and suicide among transgender and non-binary people.
Robertson said the Sport NZ document is about community sport, and was a consultation "just at the beginning".
"It is important that all New Zealanders have a place in sport and recreation in this country.
"From the research, we know that the rainbow communities often drift away from sport when they get into their teenage years because they don't feel included.
"I back Sport NZ in what they are doing because I believe sport is so intrinsic to who we are as people and I want everyone to have the chance to participate."
They wanted to hear from all different groups of people, but the starting point is all New Zealanders have the right to participate in community sport, he said.
"This is not an easy issue, there are many voices here - but we start from the premise that we want everyone to be involved and then work from there.
"At the elite level we are guided by the international federations and the rules they have.
"That is an evolving area when it comes to medicine and science and I don't think you'd want politicians making the decisions on exactly who can compete in what elite international event."
Robertson said he had spoken to Mitchell and said he would prepare him and other National MPs a briefing on what the Government has been doing in the area.
Debates on this topic have been had internationally recently, as New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is expected to make history as the first transgender athlete to compete at this year's Olympics in Tokyo.
She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.
Work on the New Zealand guidelines began last year between New Zealand Rugby and Sport New Zealand.
It followed the release of World Rugby's guidelines that banned transgender women from playing elite women's rugby.
NZR announced it would review its own transgender guidelines, which it is still working on.
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