World Athletics has voted to ban transgender women from elite female competitions if they have undergone male puberty, in a decision the governing body said had been taken to “protect the future of the female category”.
Speaking after the ruling, which comes into effect on March 31st, the World Athletics president, Seb Coe, accepted that the decision would be contentious but said his sport had been guided by the “overarching principle” of fairness, as well as the science around physical performance and male advantage.
“Decisions are always difficult when they involve conflicting needs and rights between different groups, but we continue to take the view that we must maintain fairness for female athletes above all other considerations,” he said. “We believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount.”
However, Coe also stressed that he would set up a working group that would consult transgender athletes and review any fresh research that emerged. “We’re not saying no forever,” he said.
Sports have been increasingly wrestling with the thorny issue of transgender participation in recent years, notably when New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard qualified for the Tokyo Olympics, having transitioned in her 30s.
[ Joanne O’Riordan: Trans women are not the biggest threat to women’s sport ]
Since Tokyo, the majority of sports have opted to allow trans women to compete if they lower their testosterone to five nanomoles per litre for 12 months. However, emerging science showing that transgender women retain an advantage in strength, endurance, power, lung capacity – even after suppressing testosterone – had led World Athletics to propose a lower testosterone limit for at least 24 months in January.
However, Coe said there was “little support” for such a policy, with athletes and federations making it clear they wanted to prioritise fairness for female sport over inclusion.
“We entered into a consultation some months ago because we wanted to provoke debate,” he said. “It was really important that we heard from all our stakeholders, including the athletes, the coaches and member federations. And my goodness, we heard from them.”
Athletics becomes the latest sport to ban transgender women from female sport, following World Rugby in 2020 and World Swimming and the Rugby Football League last year. Swimming’s decision came shortly after Lia Thomas, who had been a moderate college swimmer as a male competitor in the United States, won an NCAA national college female title in 2022.
World Athletics’ decision is likely to be opposed by LGBTQ+ groups such as Stonewall. Speaking last month they urged sports to be as inclusive as possible when it came to sports. “The trans population may be small, but they have every right to participate in sports and enjoy the many physical, mental and community benefits of sports,” it said. “The scientific evidence base on trans people in sport is developing but is far from conclusive.”
[ World swimming body votes to restrict participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competition ]
However, the move was welcomed by the campaign group Fair Play For Women. “It is the right thing for women and girls, in line with all the scientific evidence and common sense,” it said. “We now expect to see national federations follow the lead given to them by World Athletics, to restore the talent pathway for girls and young women, and to reinstate fair sport for women of all ages.”
In another significant decision, World Athletics also announced that all athletes with a difference in sex development would be barred from competing internationally in all events unless they reduced their testosterone to 2.5 nanomoles per litre for a minimum of six months.
Until now athletes with a DSD, who include former Olympic women’s champion Caster Semenya and Christine Mboma, the silver medallist in the 200m at the Tokyo Games, have been allowed to compete without medication except in events ranging from 400m to a mile.
However, in 2019 the court of arbitration for sport ruled that 46 XY 5-ARD individuals with a difference of sex development, such as Semenya, “enjoy a significant sporting advantage ... over 46 XX competitors without such DSD” due to biology.
Coe said that athletes with a DSD would now have to lower their testosterone for at least six months, which means they will miss this summer’s World Championships in Budapest.
“We have been prepared to take these issues head on,” added Coe. “In the past they would have been allowed to drift or be kicked into the long grass. That is not the nature of my leadership and it is certainly not the instincts of my council.”
In another statement, Coe has said Russian athletes will remain barred from track and field “for the foreseeable future” because of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
The International Olympic Committee is exploring a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals at next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
However, it appears likely they will not be able to feature in athletics in Paris, arguably the highest-profile Olympic sport.
Coe said: “The World Athletics Council approved to continue to exclude Russian and Belarus athletes from all World Series events for the foreseeable future due to the invasion and ongoing war in Ukraine.” – Guardian