25.03.2023 Athletics

Track bans transgender athletes, tightens rules for Semenya

By Sammy Heywood Okine
Track bans transgender athletes, tightens rules for Semenya
25.03.2023 LISTEN

Track and field banned transgender athletes from the international competition Thursday while adopting new regulations that could keep Caster Semenya and other athletes with differences in sex development from competing.

In a pair of decisions expected to stoke outrage, the World Athletics Council adopted the same rules as swimming did last year in deciding to bar athletes who have transitioned from male to female and have gone through male puberty. No such athletes currently compete at the highest elite levels of track.

Another set of updates, for athletes with differences in sex development (DSD), could impact up to 13 current high-level runners, WA President Sebastian Coe said. They include Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, who has been barred from that event since 2019.

Semenya and others had been able to compete without restrictions in events outside the range of 400 meters through one mile but now will have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment for six months before competing to be eligible.

Coe conceded there are no easy answers on this topic, which has turned into a societal lightning rod involving advocates concerned with keeping 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 taken have their challenges,” Coe said. “If that's the case, then we will do what we have done in the past, which is vigorously defend our position. And the overarching principle for me is we will always do what we think is in the best interest of our sport.”

Athletes with sex development differences, such as Semenya and Olympic 200-meter silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, are not transgender, although the two issues share similarities when it comes to sports.

Such athletes were legally identified as female at birth but have a medical condition that leads to some male traits, including high levels of testosterone that World Athletics argues gives them the same kind of unfair advantage as transgender athletes.