Transgender athletes have condemned World Athletics’ exclusion of transgender women from elite women’s competition, while some athletes hailed the decision as a victory for justice.
The world governing body for athletics voted on Thursday to ban transgender women who have gone through male puberty from competing in women’s events, citing the “need to protect the female category.”
Ricki Coughlan, one of Australia’s first transgender athletes in professional racing, said WA’s ruling would embolden the “forces of hate” against transgender people.
“There is no nice way to say this,” he told Reuters.
“The forces of hate that exist and don’t want transgender people to exist in our society…will take this as a victory and then say ‘okay, let’s move on’.”
Professional runner Ricki Coughlan was one of the first transgender women in Australian sporting history.
She believes the decision handed down by World Athletics will allow people who “don’t want transgender people in our society.”
Coughlan made headlines in the early 1990s when she became one of the country’s first transgender women in Australian sport.
He made the transition at age 20 and competed at the state level in the 800 and 1500 meter races.
WA also tightened eligibility requirements for athletes with differences in sexual development in women’s events, halving the upper threshold for testosterone levels.
DSD athletes have male testicles but do not produce enough of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) that is necessary for the formation of the male external genitalia.
“Women with intersex traits will continue to be subjected to horrifying practices of medically unnecessary sex testing and surgery, gender-based violence and discrimination,” said Hudson Taylor, founder and CEO of Athlete Ally, in a statement.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe (pictured) announced the ban on Thursday.
Athlete Ally advocates for the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in sport.
Australia’s national athletics federation said it would comply with WA’s decision, but would retain its own guidelines for including transgender athletes in sport at the community level.
The New Zealand federation said the issue of transgender athletes was “a very sensitive issue” and needed time to digest and understand the new rules.
Canadian cyclist Kristen Worley, a transition athlete who has legally challenged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gender policies, said World Athletics (WA)’s decision was “disheartening and disappointing.”
“What’s happening is that the most vulnerable are being excluded from sport more for political reasons and not for science and research,” Worley told Reuters in an interview.
Coughlan made the transition in her early 20s and competed at the state level in the 800 and 1500 meter races, drawing national headlines in the early 1990s.
“This has effects not only internationally, but also in communities around the world, including communities in the United States.”
The decision follows a similar move by World Aquatics, the world governing body for swimming, to exclude transgender athletes from women’s categories last year.
WA president Sebastian Coe said the decision was made after consulting 40 member federations, coaches, athletes, transgender groups, United Nations experts and the IOC.
While some argue that going through male puberty gives transgender women physical advantages, supporters of transgender participation in sports say there hasn’t been enough research on whether transgender women have any advantages.
Worley said the idea of transgender athletes dominating women’s sport made no sense.
“I’m seeing all the newsgroups post images on Twitter with no images of athletes transitioning into the elite levels of World Athletics because there aren’t any,” he said.
“So this is a purely political move by Seb Coe and World Athletics to deal with the issues of the right, political relations and obviously potential sponsors who are funding World Athletics today.”