World Athletics (WA) announced new rules on Thursday impacting transgender women athletes, banning some from competing in female track and field events.
The announced regulations, which come into force on March 31, prohibit athletes who have gone through what WA called “male puberty” from participating in female world rankings competitions. WA said the exclusion would apply to “male-to-female transgender athletes who have been through male puberty.”
“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,” World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said in a statement.
“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.”
Coe said the decision came after deliberation with groups including World Athletics member federations, the Global Athletics Coaches Academy and Athletes’ Commission and the IOC, as well as representative transgender and human rights groups.
He explained that World Athletics – the global governing body for track and field – would set up a working group to evaluate the issue of transgender inclusion over the next 12 months.
“We’re not saying no forever,” he said.
However, some pro-LGBTQ rights group have criticized the decision as discriminatory.
“We are beyond devastated to see World Athletics succumbing to political pressure instead of core principles of inclusion, fairness and non-discrimination for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of advocacy group Athlete Ally.
Taylor added that he believes the new regulations “do nothing to address what we know to be the actual, proven threats to women’s sports: unequal pay, rampant sexual abuse and harassment, lack of women in leadership and inequities in resources for women athletes.”
Meanwhile, Stonewall – a gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights charity in the United Kingdom – called the new WA rules excluding transgender women in upcoming events “disappointing.”
“It is so disappointing to see World Athletics announce a unilateral ban on trans women in track and field events,” Stonewall said in a statement. “Their own statement recognises that there are no trans women competing at an international level and that they have no specific evidence to justify the ban. We stand with trans people who now have the door closed on their chance to compete in athletic sports at an international level.”
In recent years, some opponents of trans women and girls’ participation in sport have turned the issue into a political flashpoint. In January, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the NCAA Convention in San Antonio to protest the inclusion of transgender women athletes in women’s college sports.
Advocates of banning transgender women from women’s sport have argued that transgender women have a physical advantage over cisgender women in sports.
But the mainstream science does not support that conclusion. A 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say the bans add to the discrimination trans people face.
Debate in the scientific community about whether androgenic hormones like testosterone serve as useful markers of athletic advantage remains ongoing.
A World Athletics document obtained by CNN earlier this year states that trans women “retain an advantage in muscle mass, volume, and strength over cis women” after 12 months of gender affirming hormone therapy, while acknowledging that there is “limited existing experimental data” on the matter.
In Thursday’s statement, World Athletics said: “It became apparent that there was little support within the sport for the option that was first presented to stakeholders, which required transgender athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below 2.5nmol/L for 24 months to be eligible to compete internationally in the female category.”