August 30, 2022 - 10:15am

Jamie Hunter is currently pocketing the prizes in women’s billiards and snooker. In the last two weeks, the 25 year-old has won both the World Women’s Billiards Championship and the US Women’s Snooker Open.

Hunter only joined the World Women’s Snooker Tour in 2021, after “coming out as transgender in 2019 and going through the process in 2020”. In an interview with SnookerZone, Hunter explained:

I think because I have played in the Widnes amateur league for 5 years as a male, and very rarely gone outside of Halton/Merseyside, I know most of the people in the clubs, and so when I came out as trans, I was already part of that snooker world so I was still Jamie, I just looked and acted different, so nothing really changed in terms of being welcome.
- Jamie Hunter

Surely, that is something to celebrate? It is certainly testament to the widespread acceptance and goodwill that we transgender people now enjoy in the UK. Indeed, since snooker and billiards are open to both men and women, gender transition should not stop anyone competing in the Widnes amateur league. But neither should it be a passport into the women’s game.

Because while women are welcome to enter open competitions, they are clearly at a disadvantage. England’s Reanne Evans — described as “the most successful female snooker player of all-time” — is currently top of the women’s rankings but is simultaneously placed 115 in the list with men. Ronnie O’Sullivan is unlikely to lose his crown to a woman any time soon.

The ability to pot balls, assemble breaks and snooker an opponent might not depend on speed or strength, but people with male bodies evidently have the edge over people with female bodies. For that reason alone, a separate women’s tour means that the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association can properly recognise and reward half the population.

This might sound like the “open plus female” solution that has been proposed by Sharron Davies and others: one competition that anyone can enter — what could be more inclusive than that? — and a second that women can hope to win. But it is only a fair solution if access to women’s sports is limited to people with female biology.

Let’s be clear, Hunter has played by the rules. But that does not make it right. If those rules remain, it may only be a matter of time before Hunter — already ranked 12th in women’s snooker — or another transgender competitor reaches the top spot, leaving women to compete for second place, or perhaps third, fourth or fifth.

The WPBSA needs to take urgent action. Partly to protect their transgender players from taking the brunt of possible push-back, but mainly to protect the integrity of the women’s tour. Being a woman is far more than a feeling in anyone’s head, and the WPBSA owes it to their female competitors to recognise that fact.

Debbie Hayton is a teacher and a transgender campaigner.