A ban on transgender women in international swimming and rugby this week has opened the door for track and field to consider taking the same approach in what could turn into a wave of political changes in Olympic sports.
The announcement on Sunday by swimming’s governing body, FINA, was quickly followed by an offer of support from world athletics chief Sebastian Coe, who was in Hungary for the world swimming championships. He said the FINA decision was in swimming’s best interest and that his federation, which oversees track and field and other running sports, would review its policies on transgender and intersex athletes at the end of the year.
“If we ever get pushed into a corner to that point where we make a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I will always be on the side of fairness,” Coe said.
Experts saw this as a sign that world athletics officials could use the FINA precedent to prevent all transgender and intersex athletes — the latter referred to by clinical terminology as having differences in sexual development — from competing in women’s events.
FINA’s new policy bans all transgender women from elite competitions If they do not start medical treatment to suppress testosterone production before the onset of puberty or at age 12, whichever comes later. USA Swimming set its own policy earlier this year, with the idea that it would eventually follow the FINA initiative, but said this week it would need time to see how FINA’s policy affects its policy.
If track and field adopted a rule similar to FINA, Caster Semenya, an athlete with differences in sexual development, would remain out of the races. At a distance of 800 metres.
Namibia could also disqualify 200m silver medalist Christine Mboma, who is also an athlete with differences in sexual development and is expected to contend for the title at the world championships in Oregon next month. Currently, the rules of world athletics governing these athletes do not apply to the 200 metres.
“By later this year, I think (World Athletics) will have announced a very similar policy to swimming,” said Ross Tucker, a science and research advisor at World Rugby. “And they will say that if a person has reached puberty and has the advantages associated with testosterone, they cannot compete in women’s sports.”
The International Rugby League also banned transgender women From women’s matches until further studies allow sports regulators to come up with a comprehensive and coherent policy. The International Cycling Union last week updated the eligibility rules for transgender athletes; It increased the period during which transgender athletes on women’s teams must lower their testosterone level to two years instead of one.
FIFA, which runs football, said it was “currently reviewing the gender-specific eligibility regulations in consultation with expert stakeholders”.
Individual sports take the lead because of the IOC’s framework that was introduced last November and took effect in March, which made all sports accountable to their own rules regarding testosterone. It replaced IOC policy that allowed transgender women who had undergone hormone replacement therapy for at least 12 months to compete in the Olympic Games against other women.
The new, non-binding guidelines recommend that testosterone levels not determine whether someone qualifies to compete – a position that World Athletics has not embraced.
Tucker said he expects perhaps the “big four or five” international sports federations to follow the lead of the International Mathematical Union, but not all others — in part because many are smaller operations that do not have scientific and legal teams to conduct research for inclusive policies. FINA has commissioned three groups, Athletes, Science, Medicine, Law and Human Rights, to work on its policy.
FINA and other organizations’ decisions are likely to be challenged either in court or at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which means federations that adopt a rule will need scientific studies and legal funding to support the policy.
“What I did swimming wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t cheap,” Tucker said.
Coe said FINA “spent $1,000,000 (on legal fees). We are not FIFA but we are not disadvantaged. But other sports are really afraid that if they go down that path, they will bankrupt themselves defending this.”
Most of the athletes at the World Swimming Championships in Hungary avoided commenting on the new transgender policy this week.
“I think the question is, if you were a woman out there and someone else raced, like, how would you feel doing that? It’s just about fairness in the sport,” said Australian Mosha Johnson, who finished fourth in the 1500m.
The FINA decision also caused a scramble for the national swimming federations.
The Australian Swimming Association said it supports fair and equitable competition for all athletes, adding in a statement: “We firmly believe in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner consistent with their gender identity and expression.”
In the United States, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports, sought clarification from American swimming because of transgender swimmer Leah Thomas, who competed on the Pennsylvania women’s team.
USA Swimming has established a policy that requires evidence that an athlete has maintained a testosterone level below 5 nmol per liter for at least 36 months. But the NCAA decided not to adopt that rule outright, which would have made Thomas ineligible for the national championships in March, where she won the singles title for the 500-yard yard.
When it released its policy, USA Swimming said it would remain in place until FINA adopted its own policy. In a statement on Wednesday, USA Swimming said it would “now take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our current policy.”
Thomas said she would like to watch the Olympics; If she does, it will likely put her times in the mix to at least earn a place in the Olympic trials for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Tucker said Thomas’ case may eventually be seen as the turning point in international competition, given the relative shortage of transgender athletes in elite sports.
“People are not really good at understanding an issue until it appears right in front of them as a physical thing,” Tucker said, “almost getting punched in the nose before they think something is real. And Leah Thomas made this real.”
Associated Press sports writers Kiaran Fahey and Graham Dunbar contributed.