Sharron Davies vindicated as World Athletics bans transgender athletes

Sharron Davies speaking at an event about gender and sport - World Athletics bans transgender athletes from all women’s events - PA/Andrew Milligan
Sharron Davies speaking at an event about gender and sport - World Athletics bans transgender athletes from all women’s events - PA/Andrew Milligan

World Athletics has made the landmark decision to ban transgender women from competing in female international events.

The move was hailed by Sharron Davies, the Olympic medallist and BBC presenter, who has campaigned for five years on the issue and says she has been subjected to horrific online abuse.

The World Athletics Council has voted to follow swimming and rugby rather than cycling and rowing in ruling that there can be no fair inclusion criteria for transgender athletes in elite women's sport.

"I’m quite emotional," said Davies. "I’m so pleased Seb [Coe], World Athletics president] has protected female athletes around the world at long last. It shouldn’t have taken this long. I’ve been on this course for five years and it’s been a hard road. Sport is about safety and fairness, then inclusion – in that order."

Having lifted Russia’s seven-year doping suspension, the council also agreed that the invasion of Ukraine should mean the ongoing exclusion of all athletes from Russia and Belarus.

World Athletics had initially suggested a “preferred option” that would include transgender women with reduced testosterone, but Coe argued that the “overarching priority” should be protecting the female category and said that they had made “a primarily principle-based” decision.

In acknowledging a possible legal challenge, Coe said that a working group would consider evolving scientific evidence but stressed that the ban - which applies to anyone who has transitioned after male puberty - will take effect from next week.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe - Reuters/Aleksandra Szmigiel
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe - Reuters/Aleksandra Szmigiel

“We have been prepared to take these issues head on,” said Coe. “In the past they would have been allowed to drift or kicked into the long grass. As more evidence becomes available, we will review our position. We're not saying no forever.”

The decision followed stakeholder consultation during which, said Coe, the majority agreed that trans women should not compete in the female category.

Leading British athletes had also spoken out over recent months and the ruling will further the pressure on other governing bodies to adopt the same policy.

The push to ban transgender women from female competition has been led by Davies, who hit out at the “cowardly” approach of those sports whose rules do still allow inclusion provided that a reduced testosterone limit has been met.

Davies wants new open categories to include transgender athletes, although that is not currently part of the World Athletics proposals. World Athletics admitted that no transgender women are currently competing at an elite level, a statistic that those on the other side of debate have cited to argue that there is no unfair advantage.

New regulations were also agreed for athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD), such as double Olympic champion Caster Semenya, who must now reduce their testosterone to 2.5 nanomoles per litre to compete in any event. The restrictions had previously only applied in races between 400 metres and one mile.

Semenya refused to reduce her testosterone and so was forced to change events to the 5000m, where she was far less successful. Athletes with DSD in other events, such as the 200m Olympic silver medallist Christine Mboma, must now decide whether they are willing to suppress their testosterone in order to compete. They will have six months to make that change, meaning that they will be ruled out of this summer’s world championships but could still qualify for the Olympic Games next summer.