World Athletics bans trans women from competing in elite female sports
Elias Tissandier- Nasom
Women’s Rights Researcher,
Global Human Rights Defence.
On Thursday the 23rd of March, 2023, the World Athletic Council, the international governing body for elite sports in the field of athletics, voted to enact a ban on transgender women at elite-level track and field competitions. This decision comes in line with similar bans voted by other sports federations such as the World Aquatics (swimming) which passed a similar document on the 19th of June 2022. This exclusion of trans feminine bodies from female elite sports is often justified by a supposed advantage of trans women over cisgender women as a residue of their transition from a ‘male’ body. Such assumptions have been proven wrong. The restrictions on testosterone and hormone levels only allow trans women to participate in competition when they have been on hormone replacement therapy for long enough that their hormone levels are comparable to those of cisgender women. Moreover, hormone replacement therapy in the form of estrogen and progesterone largely impacts muscle mass and bone density, rendering the trans feminine body comparable to a cisgender woman’s body upon reaching the requirements.
The decision also included a tightening of the restrictions on testosterone levels, diminishing by half the maximum amount to be allowed to compete in female sports. Following the first restrictions enacted by the World Athletic Council in 2019, the World Medical Association already issued a public statement calling for the dismissal of the restrictions and for doctors to take no part in implementing it. This outrage was caused by the clause in the document requiring cisgender women with high levels of testosterone to undergo hormone therapy in order to lower these levels back to the regulatory framework. While the testosterone levels requirements were originally intended to keep trans feminine persons from having an ‘unfair advantage’ over cisgender women, it also largely impacts the rights of female-identifying intersex athletes. With the tightening of the restriction, more intersex persons will be affected and even cisgender women might see their ability to compete limited by their natural production of hormones. As found by a study commissioned by the Canadian Center for Ethics (E-Alliance, 2023), these regulations are the reflection of the underlying misogyny, racist and geopolitical history of excluding women from sports. They represent the persistent attempt of patriarchal societies to define and control women’s bodies. In the words of the report “what threatens women’s elite sport, for cis and trans women, is not trans women, but is rather misogyny in the form of underfunding, non-parity in participation and leadership, inequitable sport space allocation/access, and a range of sporting opportunities not afforded to women (cis women and trans women) in equitable ways” (E-Alliance, 2023). The misogyny of the focus on hormone levels-induced physical advantages in sports is also illustrated by the absolute absence of attention given to trans masculine persons competing in male elite sports.
Sources and further reading:
Falconer, R. (2023, March 23). World Athletics bans trans women from female sports. Axios. https://www.axios.com/2023/03/23/world-athletics-bans-trans-women-from-female-sports
ABC News. (2023, March 23). World Athletics bans transgender women from competing in elite female competition if they went through male puberty. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-03-24/world-athletics-tightens-transgender-dsd-athlete-rules/102139298
Ali, J., (2023, January 26). Trans women have no advantage in elite sport, new report finds. PinkNews LGBTQ+ News. https://www.thepinknews.com/2023/01/26/trans-women-no-unfair-advantage-elite-sport-new-report-finds/
Transgender Women Athletes and Elite Sport: A Scientific Review. (2023). In E-Alliance. Canadian Center for Ethics. https://www.cces.ca/sites/default/files/content/docs/pdf/transgenderwomenathletesandelitesport-ascientificreview-e-final.pdf
Holmes, T. (2019, May 5). World Medical Association warns doctors not to enforce IAAF testosterone rule affecting Caster Semenya. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-05/caster-semenya-testosterone-iaaf-doctors-unethical-world-medical/11081084
Saric, I. (2022, June 19). FINA restricts transgender women from elite swimming competitions. Axios. https://www.axios.com/2022/06/19/fina-restricts-transgender-women-from-elite-swimming-competitions