“Fairness versus inclusion”: Representations of transgender athletes in British newspaper reports




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


De Gruyter


Book chapter

Peer reviewed


Following the increasing visibility of successful trans athletes and the rise of anti-gender movements such as ‘gender critical feminism’, policies concerning trans women’s participation in elite women’s sport have sparked intense debate in online and traditional media. Although policies about trans inclusion have been in place at the highest levels of sports, such as the Olympics, for decades, the perceived disruption of long-standing categories which are rooted in the concept of sex as a binary and immutable fact has proven deeply controversial. The issue also relates to broader discourse around the inclusion of trans women in female spaces more generally; this has become highly divisive, as gender critical voices argue that trans inclusion threatens women’s ‘sex-based rights’. We investigate the discourse surrounding this debate via a specific case study: representations of the American swimmer and trans woman Lia Thomas, whose win at a women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March 2022 led to widespread news coverage. We conduct corpus-assisted critical discourse analysis of British newspaper coverage of this story, taking a queer and feminist approach to the data. We find that news coverage of trans inclusion in elite sport typically reproduces cisnormative assumptions about binary sex, and that implicitly transphobic language is often used to frame trans identities as abnormal. In this way, the inclusion of trans women in sport is framed as being fundamentally unfair to cisgender women. We argue that this discourse suppresses any serious consideration of how trans women could be included in elite sport, and advocate for media coverage which is informed by - and which represents - a more balanced range of perspectives.



transgender representation, trans inclusion, queer linguistics, gender critical feminism


Bailey, A. and Jones, L. (2024) “Fairness versus inclusion”: Representations of transgender athletes in British newspaper reports. In: Schnurr, S. and File, K. (eds) The Language of Inclusion and Exclusion in Sports. Berlin: De Gruyter, pp.193-214


Research Institute

Institute of English