World Athletics is set to keep the door open for transgender women to compete at the highest level under controversial new proposals that will be voted on in March.
Under the governing body’s “preferred option”, the maximum permitted plasma testosterone for trans women would be halved from five nanomoles per litre to 2.5 nmol/L – and they would also have to stay below the permitted threshold for two years rather than 12 months as is currently the case.
However, that option is likely to prove contentious given that in its consultation document, seen by the Guardian, World Athletics accepts that trans women “retain an advantage in muscle mass, volume and strength over cis women after 12 months” of hormone treatment – and that “the limited experimental data” suggests that those advantages continue after that.
The document adds: “Exposure to puberty also results in sex differences in height, weight, wingspan (throws), pelvic and lower limbs architecture. These anatomical differences provide an athletic advantage after puberty for certain athletic events and will not respond to suppression of blood testosterone levels in post-pubertal trans women.”
However, World Athletics maintains that its preferred option would work as it would “allow significant (although not full reduction in anaerobic, aerobic and body composition) changes, while still providing a path for eligibility of trans women and 46 XY individuals to compete in the female category”.
The new rules would also apply to athletes with differences in sex development, such as Caster Semenya – who are 46 XY individuals with testes but were brought up as women – across every athletic discipline at elite level. As things stand, athletes with a DSD only have to reduce their testosterone in events ranging from 400m to a mile.
“Both DSD and transgender regulations apply to athletes who are 46 XY individuals aiming at competing in the female category,” the consultation document states.
“An analysis of DSD cases observed in elite athletes shows that most athletes are 46 XY persons who have testes that produce testosterone concentrations within the male range and who are not insensitive to the effects of androgens. As far as athletic performance is concerned, there is no significant difference between a 46 XY DSD individual, a cis male and a trans female prior to transition. Therefore, in this respect there is a need for consistency between the transgender and DSD regulations.”
A World Athletics spokesperson said that putting forward a preferred option was “the best way to gather constructive feedback, but this does not mean this is the option that will be presented to council or indeed adopted” and promised they would consult more widely in the coming weeks.
“In terms of our female eligibility regulations, we will follow the science and the decade and more of the research we have in this area in order to protect the female category, maintain fairness in our competitions and remain as inclusive as possible,” they added.