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‘Biology trumps gender’: Athletics could ban transgender and DSD women from female events

World Athletics will review its policies on transgender women and DSD athletes and president Sebastian Coe has hinted the sport will follow swimming in tightening its regulations

Sports Staff
Thursday 21 July 2022 09:39 BST
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Caster Semenya has already been pushed out of her favoured 800m by DSD rules
Caster Semenya has already been pushed out of her favoured 800m by DSD rules (Getty Images)

Athletics could be set to ban transgender women from elite female competition after the head of the sport’s governing body, Sebastian Coe, revealed its regulations were under review, saying: “Biology trumps gender.”

The World Athletics president announced the sport would be considering its transgender and DSD (differences in sex development) policies at the end of the year.

Coe has been supportive of swimming’s governing body, Fina, which has moved to bar women who have experienced any part of male puberty from competing in female events.

“We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport,” Coe said. “This is as it should be. We have always believed, and repeated constantly, that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this.”

Trans women can compete in women’s elite athletics events under current rules, provided they suppress testosterone levels below 5nmol/L for one year, but this could now be replaced by more stringent regulations.

“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport,” Coe added. “We take that very seriously and if it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will. And I’ve always made it clear, if we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall down on the side of fairness.

“We have two categories in our sport: one is age and one is gender. Age because we think it’s better that Olympic champions don’t run against 14-year-olds in community sports. And gender because if you don’t have a gender separation, no woman would ever win another sporting event.

“We’ve always been guided by the science, and the science is pretty clear: we know that testosterone is the key determinant in performance. I’m really over having any more of these discussions with second-rate sociologists who sit there trying to tell me or the science community that there may be some issue. There isn’t. Testosterone is the key determinant in performance.”

There are no trans women currently competing at an international level. However, the question of DSD women’s participation is more pertinent, given there have been several Olympic champions including Caster Semenya and Christine Mboma, who both still compete – outside of World Athletics’ regulated distance of 400m to a mile, within which DSD athletes must reduce testosterone levels.

The current rules mean Semenya cannot race in her favoured 800m, but she was in action at the World Athletics Championships on Wednesday, where she was knocked out of the 5000m heats.

Female DSD athletes have male testes but do not form the male external genitals. Under Fina’s new rules which exclude women who have experienced any part of male puberty, stars like Semenya would not be able to compete at all in female sport, which would be a highly controversial path for athletics to choose.

“We have always said our regulations in this area are a living document, specific to our sport and we will follow the science. We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinator in performance and have scheduled a discussion on our DSD and transgender regulations with our council at the end of the year.”

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