The live issue of transgender participation in sport erupted in snooker in August after Jamie Hunter of Widnes won the US Women’s Open in Seattle. The Sportsman has conducted interviews with both former women’s No1 Maria Catalano, strongly against the current rules allowing trans players in the women’s game, and then Hunter herself on her ambitions and the pandemonium on social media that has followed a breakthrough success.
Former world No1 Maria Catalano claims that even in the non-physical arena of snooker men enjoy a significant advantage over women – and that in the wake of trans player Jamie Hunter’s success at the US Women’s Open in Seattle the rules on participation should be tightened to more closely mirror the policies of swimming and rugby that have banned those having transitioned.
Catalano, 40, is a five-time world championship runner-up and famously a cousin of record main tour seven-times world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. She insists that her views are driven only by a desire for a level playing field for women rather than prejudice or hate.
And Catalano has not only threatened to quit, but even predicted the eventual demise of the women’s game unless further action is taken by the authorities.
She said: “On this point I just feel I have to speak out, I don’t feel that women’s voices have been heard and it has been really playing on my mind. I was probably first aware of transgender players competing in the women’s game last year at the event in Leeds.
“I haven’t played much the last four years. I lost my father, and then the tour was suspended due to Covid. But before that I have put my heart and soul into it since I was 15.
“Due to the lack of funding I had to work as well, which I believe is why I never quite fulfilled my potential. So snooker for women has always been tough.
“We have fought so hard for our rights in the past – myself, Reanne Evans and others got people to write letters to allow us to play in leagues and clubs that banned women.
“I don’t believe that women can compete against men on a level playing field in sport. We are wired differently, we think differently. We are mentally different.
“There is a reason why they started a women’s tour. In the past Allison Fisher has tried it, so has Karen Corr, so has Kelly Fisher - top players - down to Reanne Evans who is the best woman player I have seen.
“And even she can’t crack it in the men’s – it just hasn’t happened. So I think over a long time it has been proven that women can’t compete with the men in snooker.
“I have asked myself the question as to why that is most of my life. But it is there as a fact, in black and white, right from the 1980s. The main tour is open to both, and nobody is stopping Jamie doing that.
“People are making it out to be a hate thing, even those running the tournament in the USA put a #HateWontWin on social media. I thought that was disgusting.
“That absolutely broke my heart. It is not about hate. I have no problem with transgender people. It is their body and their lives, and they are at liberty to do what they want.
“This is only about how it affects other women in top-level sport and competition, and that’s why I am speaking out. It is causing conflict in our sport as it has in others, and you can’t just say anyone with a view is trying to generate hate. There is a principle here.
“I asked about this and clarification of the rules from a year ago numerous times, and didn’t get it. Since Jamie has won this event we have now had comments from Jason Ferguson.
“This is going to sound extreme – but with the current rules, what would happen if Ronnie or Mark Selby or any top player decided to transition tomorrow?
“It won’t happen, but they would obviously wipe the floor with the existing women players. And would that be right? The policy in place should have been made clearer in the past, I don’t think I have been kept informed having asked.
“I would say 90 percent of the players on the Women’s Tour don’t agree with this being allowed to happen, from my conversations. I do believe 100 percent there is an advantage there even in snooker after transition, and so I would like to see the rules tightened up in our sport.
“As a man Jamie never really did anything. And if this is allowed and becomes more common, there is no future for women’s snooker. I don’t want to see the end of women’s sport, it has been too hushed up, and only now Jamie has won an event has it gone big.
“I would totally change the rules, and bring ours into line with some of those other sports that have banned transgender athletes from competing in women’s sport.
“And if this is allowed to happen, I will have to stop playing which would break my heart. It is just not fair, and biological women are being shut down by being told it is only a hate thing. And it isn’t."