World Athletics bans transgender women from female sporting events
World Athletics Council (WAC), the governing body for athletic events worldwide, yesterday, voted to ban transgender women from elite female competitions if they have undergone male puberty. The governing body said the decision was taken to “protect the future of the female category”.
Speaking after the ruling, which comes into effect on 31 March, 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. “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 with 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.
Since Tokyo, most sports have opted to allow trans women to compete if they lower their testosterone to 5 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.
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.
Athletics becomes the latest sport to ban transgender women from female sport, following World Rugby three years ago 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 who last month, urged sports to be as inclusive as possible.
This move has been 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, the athletics body also announced that all athletes with a difference in sex development (DSD), would be barred from competing internationally in all events unless they reduced their testosterone to 2.5 2.5 nanomoles per litre for a minimum of six months.
Until now, athletes with a DSD, including 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.
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.
In related development, Coe said that Russian athletes would remain barred from track and field for the foreseeable future, because of the country’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the International Olympic Committee exploring a pathway for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete neutrally as independent athletes.