The Premier League, season 2020-2021, and the big clubs are battling for glory. Chelsea are top of the table, due in large part to the talents of their flamboyant new star, who merely two years ago was playing with his favela chums on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. With his ribboned dreadlocks and Latin flair, Rupol is an international sensation, coming from nowhere to be valued at £300million. But as the season approaches an exciting climax, a press conference stuns reporters, and subsequently the football-mad world.
Rupol has declared: from now on she is a woman! After gasps from the gathering, Rupol and the Chelsea boss field a few questions. ‘When did you decide this, Rupol?’ ‘Since I was a kid’, she explains, ‘I see things like my sisters.’ But why now? ‘It is not only today,’ Rupol elaborates, ‘I told my close friends maybe five, six months ago.’ Question for the boss: ‘What do you think about this?’ The Chelsea manager issues a few platitudes about Rupol’s bravery, and says that he has been aware of the decision since the star striker returned from a Brazil international match three weeks ago. ‘But can Rupol still play for your team?’ Cue hasty departure.
The conference goes viral on the internet. Jeremy Corbyn gives Rupol his grandfatherly blessing, while Tory progressive Justine Greening lauds this ‘coming out’ for breaking down barriers. The Women’s Equality Party goes further, describing Rupol’s announcement as something akin to the victory of the women’s suffrage movement. Asked what this will mean for women’s football, virtuous politicians are unsure, but a Guardian editorial envisages the future of sport: no more outmoded gender divisions. Practical difficulties will be resolved in time, and those worrying about prejudices towards female teammates will be reassured by stiff anti-discrimination policies, quotas of at least three women or transitioners, and all-women/transitioner shortlists for selected Premier League manager vacancies. Phone-in programmes are overwhelmed with dumbfounded naysayers, but BBC presenters deplore their backward attitudes.
Arsene Wenger, in possibly his last season as Arsenal manager, poses a tentative query. Rupol had scored the winner against the Gunners in a tense match at Stamford Bridge, and now Wenger wonders about the validity of the result. How could a female player be eligible in the Premier League? The Stoke City chairman calls for an urgent inquiry, asserting that Chelsea’s results should be annulled from the day the manager knew of the gender change.
The Football Association, in a cautious response, begins by emphasising its abhorrence of transphobia. Chairmen, managers or supporters of other clubs are entitled to their opinion, but any personal attacks on Rupol will be considered a hate crime and reported to the authorities. Asked whether Rupol will need to change her registration to a female player, the FA says that until she does so, there will be no impact on her status as a Premier League star. Her gender is for her alone to decide. The Sun football correspondent asks whether it is sustainable for the player to identify as a woman, and the FA to continue her registration as a man. ‘Next question, please . . .’