Caster Semenya is required to artificially reduce her body’s natural testosterone levels to compete (Pic: Shutterstock.com)
LGBTIQ+ sports groups say the harsh new ban on transgender women and those with intersex traits participating in international athletics is discriminatory and further polices women’s bodies.
On Thursday, the World Athletics Council (WAC) – the international governing body for athletics – announced new regulations for athletes who are transgender or who have “differences of sexual development”, typically affecting intersex athletes.
The new rules bar transgender women who have gone through “male puberty” from world rankings and world records in World Athletics competitions. For those transgender athletes who medically transitioned before puberty, they must maintain testosterone levels below 2.5 nmol/L.
The regulations also require athletes with intersex variations to reduce their testosterone levels below a limit of 2.5 nmol/L for a minimum of 24 months to compete internationally in the female category in any event, not just the events that were previously restricted (400m to one mile).
This means that athletes like South African Olympian Caster Semenya will have to medically reduce their natural testosterone levels for no less than two years before being allowed to compete again.
Hudson Taylor, Director of Athlete Ally, said in a statement that he was “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 traits”.
He argued that the guidelines go against inclusive guidelines from the International Olympic Committee as well as research showing that transgender women do not have an inherent advantage in sport.
Chris Mosier, Founder of Transathlete.com, asserted that the council’s new policies do “not protect the integrity of women’s sports and only further policing of women’s bodies”.
“The real impact will be felt by youth athletes around the world who are now unable to pursue their athletic dreams..”
WAC claims that it has more than ten years of research and evidence of the physical advantages that female athletes with high testosterone levels bring to the female category.
It admitted, however, that 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”.
The council said that in these circumstances, it had “decided to prioritise fairness and the integrity of the female competition before inclusion”.
It further announced it would set up a working group for 12 months to further consider the issue of transgender inclusion. “As more evidence becomes available, we will review our position, but we believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount,” said WAC President Sebastian Coe.
“Sebastian Coe states that these guidelines are an attempt to protect women’s sports,” said Taylor, “but in fact, these guidelines 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.”
Mosier believes that “the real impact will be felt by youth athletes around the world who are now unable to pursue their athletic dreams, and who are bombarded with messages from sports organisations and lawmakers telling them that they do not belong and don’t deserve the same opportunities as their peers to experience the joy, connections, and camaraderie that comes with playing sports.”
Taylor urged WAC “to look at the science, to centre inclusion, and to speak directly with athletes affected by these criteria in order to develop a policy that allows all athletes access to the sport they love”.