CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Track and field’s governing body has proposed allowing transgender athletes to continue competing in top women’s events, although with stricter rules.
World Athletics has sent a proposal for new regulations governing transgender athletes — and the separate topic of athletes with differences in sex development like two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya — to national track federations for their feedback.
The governing body’s “preferred option,” it said in a statement this week, is for transgender athletes and and those with sex development differences to still be allowed to compete in women’s events if they reduce their testosterone levels further, to below 2.5 nanomoles per liter of blood. They would have to keep their testosterone below that level for at least two years before being allowed to compete, according to World Athletics’ proposal.
Transgender athletes are currently clear to enter elite women’s events if they have kept their testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles for at least a year. Athletes with sex development differences who also have testosterone levels higher than the typical female range have to be below 5 nanomoles for six months before competing.
Although World Athletics is proposing to tighten its regulations, it had been expected to consider a complete ban for transgender athletes in women’s events following swimming’s decision to do that last year.
World swimming body FINA’s decision, which bans transgender athletes who have experienced any part of male puberty from competing against women, was supported at the time by World Athletics president Sebastian Coe.
Track’s proposal to allow transgender athletes was criticized by some, including British shot putter Amelia Strickler, who said transgender athletes had a clear advantage in her event.
“The fact that World Athletics, one of the biggest, has not [put] its foot down, I think it is really, really upsetting,” Strickler told The Telegraph newspaper. “I am genuinely worried. This is my career. … I think these rules really could open the floodgates. If I get social media backlash, I don’t really care.”
Some British athletes supported Strickler on social media. Others argued that sports needs to find a way to include transgender athletes.
There are currently no openly transgender athletes in either elite track and field or swimming.
The inclusion of transgender athletes and those with sex development differences is one of sport’s most contentious and emotive topics, and track and field has been wrestling with how to formally address it for more than a decade.
The new rule proposals have been sent to World Athletics’ member federations, but that didn’t mean they would definitely be adopted, the organization said.
Athletes with sex development differences, like Semenya of South Africa and Olympic silver-medalist sprinter Christine Mboma of Namibia, are not transgender. Such athletes were assigned female at birth but have a medical condition that leads to some male traits, including high levels of testosterone that World Athletics argues gives them the same kind of unfair advantage as transgender athletes.
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