The World Athletics Council has announced plans to ban men from competing in women’s sports.

In a press release on Thursday that addressed multiple topics, the international governing body addressed the issue of male athletes identifying as female and competing in women’s sports.

“In regard to transgender athletes, the Council has agreed to exclude male-to-female transgender athletes who have been through male puberty from female World Rankings competition,” the WAC added. 

Speaking after the ruling, which comes into effect on 31 March, 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 with transgender athletes and review any fresh research that emerged. “We’re not saying no forever,” he said.

The WAC explained that it held a “consultation period” in January and February with various groups, including “Member Federations, the Global Athletics Coaches Academy and Athletes’ Commission, the IOC, as well as representative transgender and human rights groups.”

“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,” explained WAC.

The governing body also addressed “DSD athletes” or “Athletes with Differences of Sex Development,” defined as individuals who “have congenital conditions that cause atypical sex Development.”

For these athletes, the WAC requires them 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 restricted (400m to 1 mile) under the previous regulations.”

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 in having transitioned in her 30s.

Since Tokyo, the majority of 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.

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.”

WAC President Lord Sebastian Coe explained to the British Broadcasting Corporation that the decision was driven by “the overarching principle which is to protect the female category” and that further research was going to be conducted on trans-identified eligibility.

Formerly known as the International Amateur Athletic Federation and based in Sweden, the governing body had previously announced its intention to review its rules on trans-identifying athletics back in January.

“As we have always said, all regulations are subject to review at any time,” WAC wrote.

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. “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.”

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.”

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, Lord 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.

Leave a Reply