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World Athletics may bar trans female athletes

"The integrity of women’s sport is really important here, and we can’t have a generation of young girls thinking there is not a future for them in the sport," said WA president Sebastian Coe

Rio Olympic Stadium

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe has stated that the global athletics governing body will look at their rules concerning the inclusion of transgender athletes in female events at a Council meeting toward the end of this year.

World Athletics president Sebastian Coe at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park on July 19, 2013, in London, U.K., Photo: Ben A. Pruchnie/Getty Images for Go Local

This statement comes days after the International Swimming Federation (FINA), swimming’s governing body, voted to stop trans female athletes from competing in women’s elite races if they have gone through any part of the gender transformation process after puberty or age 12. FINA also stated that they will establish an open category in some events for swimmers whose gender identity is different than their birth sex.

Transgender rights have become a major talking point in sports in an effort to balance inclusivity with ensuring they do not have an unfair advantage arising from the residual effects of puberty.

The debate intensified this year after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in history, winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle.

In an interview with BBC Sport, Coe, a two-time Olympic 800m champion, outlined his support for the recent measures taken by FINA.

“The integrity of women’s sport is really, really important here, and we can’t have a generation of young girls thinking there is not a future for them in the sport. So we have a responsibility…maintaining the primacy and the integrity of female competition is absolutely vital, and that’s why we were at the forefront of tabling those regulations that allow as close as you can get to a level playing field,” says Coe.

Coe on FINA’s ruling:

“This is as it should be. We have always believed that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this. We will follow the science.”

FINA’s new guideline means that Thomas, who has expressed a desire to compete for Team U.S.A. at the Paris Olympics, is now blocked from participating in the women’s category at the Games. There have been talks to establish an “open” category at world championships for athletes whose gender identity is different than their assigned gender at birth.

The current World Athletics guideline from 2018 states that transgender women can compete in the women’s category if they reduce their testosterone levels to below five nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before competing.

“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant in performance, and have scheduled a discussion on our regulations with our council at the end of the year,” says Coe.

IOC headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. Photo: IOC/Christophe Moratal

International sports federations may set their own policies but will be subject to World Athletics and IOC rules when it comes to sending athletes to the World Championships and Olympic Games.