Trans women banned from female athletics, Semenya's career hits another stumbling block

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Giuseppe CACACE / AFP
  • World Athletics has tightened rules governing the participation of transgender women in female competition.
  • Regardless of their levels of testosterone, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe says they won't be able to compete in track and field events. 
  • This ruling comes into effect from 31 March 2023.

Transgender women will no longer be allowed to compete in female track and field events regardless of their levels of testosterone, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said Thursday, citing fairness over inclusion.

Coe said no female transgender athlete who had gone through male puberty would be permitted to compete in female world ranking competitions from 31 March.

Speaking after a meeting of the global track and field federation's decision-making body, Coe said World Athletics had consulted with stakeholders, including 40 national federations, the International Olympic Committee and trans groups about the issue of transgender athletes.

The new ruling places a further hurdle in front of South Africa's double Olympic 800m gold medallist Caster Semenya and her career.

Semenya, now 32, won gold at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics and has been at the forefront of the debate and legislation around intersex athletes competing at an elite level. 

Semenya has been engaged in a legal battle since 2019 over a ruling that dictated she takes medication to suppress her testosterone levels to compete in her preferred distances between 400m and 1 500m, and this latest move from World Athletics makes that fight even more difficult. 

"The majority of those consulted stated that transgender athletes should not be competing in the female category," said Coe.

"Many believe there is insufficient evidence that trans women do not retain advantage over biological women and want more evidence that any physical advantages have been ameliorated before they are willing to consider an option for inclusion into the female category."

He added: "The judgement we took... was, I believe, in the best interests of our sport.

He said a working group headed by a transgender person would be created to further monitor scientific developments.

"We're not saying 'no' forever," Coe said.

"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.

"We will be guided in this by the science around physical performance and male advantage which will inevitably develop over the coming years. As more evidence becomes available, we will review our position, but we believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount."

In a statement, World Athletics said it became apparent that there "little support within the sport" for an option that was presented to stakeholders, which required transgender athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below 2.5nmol/L (nanomoles per litre of blood) for 24 months to be eligible to compete internationally in the female category.

"There are currently no transgender athletes competing internationally in athletics and consequently no athletics-specific evidence of the impact these athletes would have on the fairness of female competition in athletics.

"In these circumstances, the Council decided to prioritise fairness and the integrity of the female competition before inclusion."

World Athletics also amended regulations covering athletes classified as DSD, in other words having "differences of sexual development".

Under the new regulations, in order to compete in the female category, DSD athletes will have to reduce their amount of blood testosterone to below 2.5 nanomoles per litre, down from the current level of five, and remain below this threshold for two years, rather than just one, as is the case now.

World Athletics also removed the principle of restricted events for DSD athletes, meaning regulations now cover all events rather than the previously monitored ones, which were from 400m to one mile.


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