Pride Sports’ Response to World Athletics Policy on Trans Athletes & Athletes with Innate Variations of Sex Characteristics
We’re very disappointed to see that World Athletics have chosen to ban trans women from competing in all female categories, and that they enacted a 2.5nmol/L testosterone limit on women athletes with innate variations of sex characteristics when competing in the female categories.
There is no clear scientific justification for a blanket ban on trans women. Recently, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport published a comprehensive literature review, stating that “Available evidence indicates trans women who have undergone testosterone suppression have no clear biological advantages over cis women in elite sport”. Standard policy across the sporting world for the last two decades has been to allow trans participation provided testosterone suppression has taken place, and in that time there have been vanishingly few examples of trans women enjoying any form of success in women’s sport. Indeed, trans women are significantly under-represented at all levels of organised sport, suggesting that the focus of policy should be to address this lack of participation rather than imposing exclusion.
These policy decisions do not exist in a vacuum. Sporting policy and subsequent media coverage influence public opinion.
This week, the trans children and young people’s charity, Mermaids released research highlighting that a third of trans young people worried about participating in sport because of negative media coverage. However, 69% said that participating in sport had a positive effect on their mental health – highlighting the importance of getting people moving. If trans young people see no one like them in world class sport, they miss out on role models and inspiration.
Seb Coe indicated that this policy could be temporary, however trans athletes have had to deal with seemingly constant flux and speculation with regard to sporting policy over the last few years, and many are tired and have chosen to step away from competitive sport altogether. Last year, we saw FINA, the global federation for aquatic sports, take a similar step to ban trans women; indicating they would release a plan for inclusion in an open category after 6 months. Nine months later, we’ve heard nothing. We are concerned Athletics will take a similar path, by banning trans women and then failing to revisit the topic when new data becomes available.
We are also very concerned about the policy on athletes with innate variations of sex characteristics, which threatens to impact the eligibility, livelihoods and safety of many women who are currently competing. Testosterone based eligibility policies have been widely criticised. Indeed, in 2019, the World Medical Association called on physicians around the world to take no part in implementing regulations which require female athletes to reduce their natural blood testosterone level. Whilst a 2020 Human Rights Watch report highlighted human rights abuses in the implementation of such regulations.
The idea that women cannot be exceptional in their physical attributes whilst similarly unique physical traits are lauded in men, highlights a fundamental sexism in the foundations of organised sport. We also cannot ignore that it is women from the global south who are disproportionately affected by these regulations.
We believe these policies are harmful, not only to the many disciplines governed by World Athletics, but to the culture of sport more broadly. The policing of women’s bodies has no place in 21st Century performance sport.