Triathlon has become the first sport in the UK to ban transgender athletes from racing in the elite and grassroots female category after deciding that “competition fairness is paramount”.
Under British Triathlon’s new policy, effective January 1, 2023, transgender athletes over the age of 12 will now be required to compete in an “open category” for “all individuals, including men, transgender and those who were non-binary who were male.” were sexed at birth”.
A second “female category” will only apply “for those who are female at birth”. The policy applies to any race that is timed or has prizes.
The policy will also apply at international level, with British Triathlon confirming that “only athletes who are female at birth are eligible to represent Great Britain, England, Scotland or Wales in female competitions”.
British Triathlon has pledged to keep the sport inclusive for all, but the governing body argued that the scientific evidence that transgender athletes have retained benefits showed it had to act to protect the female category.
“Athletes born male have an advantage over athletes born female, and their advantage is significant in swimming, cycling and running,” said Andy Salmon, the CEO of British Triathlon. “And we concluded that physiological benefits are preserved after testosterone suppression.”
Salmon also pointed out that triathlon has long been a strong supporter of gender equality, where men and women compete for the same prizes on the same course. “Our sport started relatively late in the 1970s. And with gender equality at its core, this is something we are incredibly proud of and indeed incredibly valued,” he added. “And this is one of the reasons why fairness in our sport is so important to us.
“So where there is competitive activity, fairness of competition is paramount — and it should apply to all levels of the sport.”
Until now, most transgender policies for sports have focused on elite competition only, with the governing bodies of the international swimming, cycling and rugby league all coming up with different plans for international sports in recent weeks.
However, Salmon said it was important for British triathlon that the same rules applied at all levels. “Doing a triathlon takes dedication,” he said. “So who are we as a governing body to say to someone who isn’t particularly fast or talented that when they compete in a triathlon, they don’t deserve fair competition?”
British Triathlon said it made its groundbreaking decision after a survey of more than 3,000 members – 80% of whom preferred a protected female category – along with discussions with elite, grassroots and transgender athletes and an assessment of the latest science.
In its policy paper, British Triathlon says the science “unequivocally illustrates the physiological, biological and subsequent athletic performance benefits that adult men enjoy over adult women – due to the effects of testosterone during male puberty”.
“In addition, the scientific community broadly agrees that most of the physiological/biological benefits brought about by male puberty are preserved. [either wholly or partially] by trans women after menopause,” the document adds.
British Triathlon said it had sought legal advice and was confident its new policy was “robust” and protected by the Equality Act of 2010. It also urged people to discuss the policy in a respectful manner.
British Triathlon wants to make it clear that it will not tolerate transphobic behaviour, intimidation, bullying or hate speech of any kind. “Anyone who comments on our policies should do so with empathy and consideration.”