In a groundbreaking moment for the World Croquet Federation (WCF), Jamie Gumbrell, an Australian athlete, made history by becoming the first transgender woman to win a world title. Gumbrell’s victory, however, stirred controversy among female competitors who were unaware of her biological status until the tournament in England.
Sue Lightbody, a member of the England team, conveyed her dissatisfaction, remarking, “There was a significant amount of unease. However, nobody was willing to voice their concerns or take action. I felt quite upset about the situation. We were concerned it might work against us, affecting our chances of being selected for another team. Everything was kept quiet; everyone was apprehensive about being labeled as transphobic. People advised me to stay out of it, saying, ‘Don’t get involved; you’ll become very unpopular.’ But this shouldn’t be happening. It’s fundamentally unfair.”
Gumbrell’s opponent in the final was Rachel Gee, an accomplished croquet player who had previously held titles such as the European Golf Croquet Champion and the World Women’s Golf Croquet Champion. A fellow female competitor empathetically expressed sorrow for Gee, recounting her emotions during the final and the disappointment of seeing her dreams shattered by someone assigned male at birth.
Gumbrell had previously participated in male competitions and was regarded as a rising star in the sport. The Victorian Croquet Association Inc. even acknowledged Gumbrell’s third-place finish in a prestigious tournament in February 2019. However, it was after the reopening of the country and the resumption of sports following the COVID-19 pandemic that Gumbrell identified as female.
In 2020, Gumbrell showcased their talent by winning the Croquet Australia’s GC Under 21 Championships Singles and Doubles with a relative.
The WCF unveiled its transgender inclusion policy in April 2022, delineating criteria for eligibility. The policy asserts, “Any player seeking to participate in a WCF Event should apply only for events open to all genders or designed for the gender identity they consistently and persistently identify with.” WCF President Ian Burridge defended the policy, underscoring that Gumbrell’s involvement in the world championships adhered to the stipulated guidelines.
Nevertheless, Lightbody contended that males inherently enjoy an advantage in the sport. She emphasized the jump shot as a pivotal technique in golf croquet, elucidating that while she could only execute mid-jumps, Gumbrell could perform jumps from the baseline. Lightbody believed this bestowed a notable advantage upon Gumbrell compared to female competitors.
Gumbrell’s triumph marks a significant milestone in the croquet world, highlighting the ongoing discussions surrounding transgender inclusion in sports. The debate over fairness and the potential advantages or disadvantages associated with transgender athletes competing in gender-specific events continues to spark conversation and calls for further examination and understanding.