Trans rights advocates have warned sports governing bodies that “blanket bans” on transgender women from competing in women’s categories risk “violating fundamental human rights principles.”
This follows World Athletics (WA) President Sebastian Coe’s announcement of new regulations around transgender women athletes on Thursday, which come into force on March 31 and prohibit athletes who have gone through what WA called “male puberty” from participating in female world rankings competitions. WA said the exclusion would apply to “male-to-female transgender athletes.”
“Such policies risk violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion unless an exclusion can be justified as proportionate to any risks identified,” Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said in a statement.
“World Athletics has failed to meet that standard.”
Meanwhile, retired Australian transgender athlete Ricki Coughlan said she was “disappointed” by what she feels is a “fundamentally discriminatory” decision.
“When leaders make decisions which divide and exclude us, we see this reflected in community,” Coughlan wrote on Twitter.
“The voices of hate are amplified on one side and fear on the other. Our communities become divided and we miss the opportunity to achieve what we can only achieve when we come together, each of us working in a spirit where we can all strive to reach our full potentials.”
Coe said the decision had been made to “maintain fairness for female athletes above all other considerations.”
He explained that WA – the global governing body for track and field – would set up a working group to evaluate the issue of transgender inclusion over the next 12 months.
“We’re not saying no forever,” Coe said.
In a statement to CNN on Friday, WA said: “The science shows that anyone who has gone through male puberty retains male anatomical differences that provide an athletic advantage.
“The World Athletics Council was unwilling to compromise the integrity of the female category without evidence that these male advantages can be ameliorated.
“We currently do not have any transgender athletes in elite international competition; therefore, the time is right to consult more widely on this subject. We hope that any transgender athletes who are planning to enter our sport at an elite level come forward and contribute to our new Working Group.”
In recent years, some opponents of trans women and girls’ participation in sport have turned the issue into a political flashpoint. In January, a small group of demonstrators gathered outside the NCAA Convention in San Antonio to protest the inclusion of transgender women athletes in women’s college sports.
Advocates of banning transgender women from women’s sport have argued that transgender women have a physical advantage over cisgender women in sports.
But the mainstream science does not support that conclusion. A 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say the bans add to the discrimination trans people face.
Debate in the scientific community about whether androgenic hormones like testosterone serve as useful markers of athletic advantage remains ongoing.
A World Athletics document obtained by CNN earlier this year states that trans women “retain an advantage in muscle mass, volume, and strength over cis women” after 12 months of gender affirming hormone therapy, while acknowledging that there is “limited existing experimental data” on the matter.
The new policy follows similar regulations introduced by swimming governing body World Aquatics last year, which say that male-to-female transgender athletes will only be eligible to compete in the women’s categories in World Aquatics competitions if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two on the puberty Tanner Scale.
Some athletes welcomed World Athletics’ decision, including British runner Emily Diamond, who called it “a big step for fairness and protecting the female category.”
Writing on Twitter, Diamond added: “Hopefully this will be the rule across all levels now, not just elite ranking events.”
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, a group campaigning against transgender athletes in women’s sport, also welcomed the move from WA.
“It’s not a ban, it just actually moves to protect the female category to female competitors and it was an excellent decision,” spokeswoman Ro Edge told Reuters.
“So it’s really reassuring to hear (WA) president Seb Coe come out and say they’ve got to maintain fairness of female participation above all other considerations.”
Coe said the decision came after deliberation with groups including World Athletics member federations, the Global Athletics Coaches Academy and Athletes’ Commission and the IOC, as well as representative transgender and human rights groups.
CNN’s David Close, Jacob Lev and Ben Morse contributed to reporting.