World Athletics Council rules to ban transgender athletes from international track and field

Track and field banned transgender athletes from international competition Thursday, with the adoption of new regulations that could prevent Caster Semenya and other athletes with differences in sexual development from competing.

In two decisions expected to spark outrage, the World Athletics Council adopted the same rules swimming did last year in banning athletes who have transitioned from male to female and have gone through puberty. There are no such athletes currently competing at the highest, elite levels of track.

Another set of updates, for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD), could affect up to 13 currently top-level runners, Sebastian Coe, president of the Western Australian Federation, said. Among them is Semenya, the two-time Olympic champion in the 800m, who has been banned from the event since 2019.

Semenya and others were able to compete without restrictions in events outside of the 400-meter mile, but would now have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment for six months before competing for qualification.

Coe admitted there are no easy answers on the subject, which has turned into a societal lightning rod that includes advocates concerned with maintaining a level playing field in women’s sports and others who don’t want to discriminate against transgender and DSD athletes.

“All the decisions we’ve made have challenges,” Ko said. “If that is the case, we will do what we have done in the past, which is to vigorously defend our position. The general principle for me is that we will always do what we think is in the best interest of our sport.”

Athletes with differences in sexual development, such as Semenya and Olympic 200m silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, are not transgender, though the two share similarities when it comes to sports.

These athletes were legally identified as female at birth but have a medical condition that results in certain masculine traits, including high levels of testosterone that World Athletics says gives them the same kind of unfair advantage as transgender athletes.

Semenya has been running in longer events. She finished 13th in her heat for the 5000m at the World Championships last year. In a recent interview, she said she was aiming to run a longer distance in the Olympics.

“I’m in the adjustment phase, and my body is starting to adjust to it. I’m just enjoying myself at the moment, and things will fall into place in time,” said the South African runner.

Now, in order to compete in the Olympics next year, she will have to undergo six months of hormone-suppressing treatment, something she said she would never do again, having undergone treatment a decade ago under the previous rules.

Mboma, who won silver in Tokyo two years ago but ruled out the world last year with an injury, did not say if she was ready to undergo hormone therapy.

Another athlete, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, an Olympic 800m silver medalist, said she would not undergo treatment. While Semenya struggled over longer distances, Niyonsaba has had relative success, winning Diamond League titles in the 3000 and 5000 meters and running in the 5000 at the Tokyo Olympics.

Under the new regulations, athletes in the earlier “unrestricted” events are required to hold back testosterone levels of less than 2.5 nanomoles per liter of blood for six months. Ultimately, they will have to stay below those levels for two years.

Previously, athletes with differences in sexual development had to lower their testosterone to less than 5 nanomoles per liter of blood for at least six months before competition, and the rules only applied to distances between 400 meters and one mile.

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