World Athletics bans transgender women from competing in female world ranking events

  • By Katie Falkingham
  • BBC Sport

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Lord Coe said the decision was made “to protect the female category”.

World Athletics has banned transgender women from competing in the female category at international events.

Governing body president Lord Coe said no transgender athlete who has gone through male puberty will be allowed to compete in female world rankings competitions from March 31.

A working group will be set up to conduct further research on transgender eligibility policies.

“We’re not saying no forever,” he said.

Under previous rules, World Athletics required transgender women to reduce their blood testosterone levels to a maximum of 5 nmol/L and remain below that threshold for a continuous 12-month period before competing in the female category.

Lord Coe added the decision was “guided by the overriding principle of protecting the female category”.

He noted that there are currently no transgender athletes competing internationally in the sport.

The World Athletics Council also voted to reduce the amount of testosterone in the blood allowed for athletes with sex development differences (DSD) like Caster Semenya of South Africa.

DSD athletes must reduce their blood testosterone levels from five to under 2.5 nanomoles per liter and remain below this threshold for two years in order to compete in the female category in track and field events internationally.

According to the previous regulations, DSD athletes were only limited to events from 400 m to one mile.

“Decisions are always difficult when there are conflicting needs and rights between different groups, but we remain of the belief that we must put fairness for women athletes above all other considerations,” said Lord Coe.

“We will be guided by the science surrounding physical performance and male advantage, which will inevitably evolve in the years to come. We will review our position as more evidence becomes available, but we believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is of paramount importance.”

The council agreed to set up a working group for 12 months to “continue to examine the issue of transgender inclusion”.

An independent chair will lead the group, which will also include up to three council members, two athletes from the Athletes’ Commission, one transgender athlete, three representatives from World Athletics’ member federations, and representatives from World Athletics’ health and science departments.

It will consult specifically with transgender athletes, review and commission research, and make recommendations to the Council.

‘Low support’ for previous preference – World Athletics

As recently as January, World Athletics said its “preferred option” was to continue allowing transgender women to compete in the female category but tightening the sport’s eligibility rules and continuing to use testosterone limits as the basis for admission.

However, World Athletics said there was “little support” for the option when it was presented to stakeholders, which included member federations, athletes, coaches and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as well as representative transgender and human rights groups.

Many argue that transgender women should not compete in elite women’s sports because of any benefits – but others argue that the sport should be more inclusive.

The debate revolves around the balance between inclusion, sporting fairness and safety in women’s sport – essentially whether transgender women can compete in women’s categories without an unfair advantage.

The IOC’s Transgender Athlete Framework, published in November 2021, states that a transgender athlete should not be presumed to automatically have an unfair advantage in sporting events attended by women and gives individual federations responsibility for setting eligibility criteria in their Sports.

In February UK Athletics said it wanted a change in the law to ensure the women’s category was legitimately reserved for competitors registered as female at birth.

The governing body said all transgender athletes should be allowed to compete with men in an open category to ensure “fairness” in women’s competition.

What rules apply in other sports?

In June 2022, Lord Coe welcomed the move by Fina – the world governing body of swimming – to bar transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s races if they had gone through part of the male puberty process, insisting that ” Fairness is non-negotiable”.

Fina also aimed to establish an “open” category at competitions for swimmers whose gender identity differs from their gender determined at birth.

In 2022, British Triathlon will become the first British sporting body to create a new “open” category for transgender athletes to compete.

Rugby Football League and Rugby Football Union also banned transgender women from participating in all-female forms of their games.

It followed World Rugby becoming the first international sports governing body to declare that transgender women would not be able to compete at the elite and international level of women’s football in 2020.

Some critics have said these rules are discriminatory.

Olympic diving champion Tom Daley said he was “angry” at Fina’s decision to bar transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s events, saying: “Anyone who is told not to compete or anything, what he loves can’t do, just because of who he is, it’s not on.”

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