Beginning March 31, 2023, transgender women will not be permitted to compete in the female gender category at international events sanctioned by World Athletics.
World Athletics, which was previously known as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) until 2019, is the international governing body for the sport of “athletics.”
As such, World Athletics encompasses track and field, road running, cross-country running, race walking, ultra running, and mountain running.
As a governing body for the sport of athletics, World Athletics sets the rules, regulations, and standards for running-related competitions; sanctions and manages all of the world records in running and track and field; and organizes and sanctions competitions that fall under the umbrella of athletics, including the World Athletics Championships.
The decision was announced by the president of World Athletics, Lord Sebastian Coe.
Lord Coe is from the United Kingdom and has been presiding over the governing body of athletics since 2015. He is currently near the end of his second four-year term after being reelected in 2019 after running unopposed for the position.
In this latest decision put forth by the World Athletics Council, Lord Coe announced that no transgender athlete who had gone through male puberty will be allowed to compete in world-ranking competitions in the female category beginning March 31, 2023.
A transgender female athlete is an athlete who was born as a biological male and chose to transition their gender identity later on in life.
Some transgender athletes undergo hormonal treatments and/or gender reassignment surgeries to reflect their gender choice.
Other transgender female athletes do not take female hormones or use hormone blockers for male hormones.
According to the new World Athletics regulations, any transgender female that did not transition prior to undergoing male puberty (by taking hormone blockers) will not be permitted to compete in any international World Athletics female event or in the female gender category, nor will they be eligible for world records.
Under the previous rules, in order to compete in the female category, World Athletics required transgender women to reduce blood testosterone levels to a maximum of 5 nmol/L, and remain consistently and continuously under this threshold for a period of at least 12 months.
Lord Coe reported that the decision to establish the new rules regarding transgender women was “guided by the overarching principle, which is to protect the female category.”
He elaborated on the Council’s decision as per the World Athletics news section:
“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.”
Currently, there are currently no transgender women competing in running competitions or other athletics events at the international level.
Alongside the decision to ban transgender women from competing in the female category, the World Athletics Council also voted to amend the rules regarding blood testosterone levels for athletes with differences in sex development (DSD).
Under previous rules, athletes with DSD, such as South Africa’s Caster Semenya, had to have blood testosterone levels of no more than 5 nm/L, but the threshold has now been cut in half to 2.5 nm/L.
Athletes with DSD must now remain continuously under this threshold for two years to be eligible to compete in the female category in any international track and field event, whereas the previous stipulations were only for track events from the 400m to the mile distance.
Ultimately, the debate around the inclusion or exclusion of transgender women in the female category centers around trying to balance inclusion with fairness in the sport, with the notion that athletes presenting as female who have significantly higher levels of testosterone are at an unfair advantage relative to cis-gender females.
Lord Coe said that this new rule isn’t necessarily set in stone.
A working group will be assembled to conduct further research for 12 months to more deeply evaluate fair guidelines for transgender eligibility.
The working group will be led by an independent chair and will include up to three council members, three representatives of the World Athletics’ member federations, representatives of the World Athletics health and science department, two athletes from the Athletes’ Commission, and notably, a transgender athlete.
In order to evaluate transgender inclusion, the working group will consult with transgender athletes, review current research, commission necessary research, and present recommendations to the World Athletics Council.
This means that the issue may be reassessed in the future.
However, for now, the decision is being met with both support and outrage, reflecting the controversial and complicated nature of transgender inclusion in sports.