World Athletics bans trans women from elite female competitions

The organisation introduced the new regulations despite the fact that there are no transgender athletes currently competing in international female events.

A group of women racing in a World Athletics event.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

World Athletics, the international governing body for track and field, race walking and cross country, road, mountain and ultra running, has restricted the participation of trans women in elite female competitions. The decision was confirmed by the organisation’s president, Sebastian Coe, at a press conference in Monaco on Thursday, March 23.

Addressing reporters, Coe revealed that the World Athletics’ council “has agreed to exclude male-to-female transgender athletes, who have been through male puberty, from female world ranking competitions,” claiming that it is a measure to “protect the female category”. The restrictions will be implemented from March 31 – also Trans Day of Visibility – and are being introduced despite the fact that there are no transgender athletes currently competing in international athletics events.

Coe disclosed that the decision was made in consultation with a number of stakeholders, including member federations, coaches, athletes, community groups, the International Olympic Committee and Para Athletics, the majority of which “stated that transgender athletes should not be competing in the female category”.

“Many believe there is insufficient evidence that trans women do not retain advantage over biological women, and want more evidence that any physical advantages have been ameliorated before they are willing to consider an option for inclusion in the female category,” the President stated.

Previously, World Athletics allowed trans women to participate in elite female categories provided their testosterone levels were at or below five nanomoles per litre for at least one year prior to competing. Coe said that the organisation cannot continue with this regulation as it is “unsure about the impact of doing so” across all of the disciplines.

To properly investigate transgender eligibility, World Athletics is establishing a working group whose remit will be to consult directly with affected athletes and possibly commission further research into the issue.

The transgender sporting community has been responding to the news, with Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley calling it “disheartening and disappointing”.

“What’s happening is the most vulnerable are being excluded from sport more for political reasons and not based on science and research,” the athlete told Reuters.

Australian runner Ricki Coughlan said the ruling will encourage “the forces of hate”, who “will take this as a win and will then say ‘okay, let’s move onto the next thing’.”


World Athletics also tightened restrictions for athletes with Differences in Sex Development (DSD) in female categories, halving the upper threshold of testosterone levels from five to two-and-a-half nanomoles per litre.

“For women with intersex traits, they will continue to be subjected to horrific sex testing practices and medically unnecessary surgery, gender-based violence and discrimination,” Founder and Executive Director of Athlete Ally, Hudson Taylor, commented.

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