UCI responds as athletics committee firms up new rules for transgender athletes

A group of international athletics federations have reached an agreement on new regulations for transgender women in elite sport

(Image credit: AFP via Getty Images)

The UCI has responded to the news that an athletics committee has agreed new rules for transgender women competing in elite sport.

A group of international athletics federations met in Lausanne, Switzerland, last month to discuss the eligibility of transgender athletes competing in top-level sport.

Hosted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the bodies involved agreed that the rules for transgender athletes should be decided by governing authorities from each sport, and that the current testosterone maximum limit should be halved for transgender women.

Discussion around transgender athletes has been rife in recent weeks, after Dr Rachel McKinnon successfully defended her Masters Track World Championship title in Manchester last month.

The talks were needed as the sporting world has been unable to reach an agreement on the regulations that affect transgender athletes.

Transgender athletes were due to face tighter restrictions by the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, as the maximum level of testosterone allowed was due to be halved, but the guidelines have been delayed because the International Olympic Committee can’t reach an agreement.

Emerging research from the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden suggests that testosterone suppression for transgender women has little effect on reducing muscle strength.

Transgender athletes have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2004 but under the requirement they had undergone gender confirmation surgery and been on hormone therapy for two years.

In 2015, these rules were relaxed to remove the need for surgery and the athletes must have a testosterone level below 10nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to their first competition. The average range for adult females is 0.52 to 2.8 nmol/L, with levels above 2.7 described as the “upper limit of normal.”

But this 10nmol/L limit will now be halved to five under the new rule.

The IAAF meeting, held on October 19, resulted in six main points being agreed.

These are: the federations remain committed to fair opportunity for female athletes, inclusion of transgender women in female categories should be promoted with meaningful eligibility standards (provided it does not create “intolerable unfairness”), the rules should be sport-specific and designed by the relevant international federation, if a federation decides to use testosterone to set the rules a threshold of 5nmol/ of testosterone should be applied, and more research is needed.

The committee reached the agreement of a lower testosterone threshold as it may be higher than the levels often found in women, (between 0 and 1.7 nmol/L) but most transgender women’s testosterone level is typically well below the 5 nmol/L limit.

In response to the news, the UCI said: “The UCI is pleased by the consensus obtained by the working group – of which it is a member alongside other international federations.

“The UCI shares the conclusions reached by the participants, who included representatives of transgender and cisgender athletes.

“The consensus drawn up by the working group will enable the UCI to take into consideration, in line with the evolution of our society, the wish of concerned athletes to compete while guaranteeing as far as possible equal chances for participants in women’s competitions.”

The UCI Management Committee will decide on the new rules with a view to applying them in 2020.

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Alex Ballinger

Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers.  Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.