World Athletics Federation banned trans women from competing in women’s competitions on March 31, 2023, thus excluding transgender athletes who had passed male puberty before participating in women’s competitions in the world rankings.

Regarding DSD (Disorders of Sex Development) athletes, the new regulation establishes that they have to reduce their testosterone level below 2.5 nml/L for a minimum period of 24 months. This rule applies to all athletes who want to compete in any women’s category event, not just those restricted in the previous regularion (400m to one mile).

Interim provisions have been introduced for relevant athletes who were already competing in the events that were not restricted (distances below 400 metres, above one mile and field events). They include a requirement to suppress testosterone levels below 2.5 nmol/L for at least six months before they can compete again.

It should be remembered that, in the previous regulation, the maximum testosterone level required to allow participation was 5 nmol/L for at least six months for athletes competing in restricted events.

Additional provisions do not apply to previously restricted events. In them two years of testosterone suppression are required for the athlete to be eligible to compete.

World Athletics held a consultation period with key stakeholders, including member federations, the Global Athletics Coaches Academy, the Athletes Commission, the International Olympic Committee and representatives of human and transgender rights groups.

The first option presented to stakeholders was little supported in the sports world: allowing trans athletes to maintain their testosterone levels below 2.5 nmol/L for 24 months in order to compete internationally in the female category.

There are currently no trans athletes competing in the female category, so there is no evidence of the impact that these athletes would have on the fairness of female competition in athletics. In this sense, the Council prioritized the equality of women’s competition over integration.

It has also been agreed to establish a working group for 12 months to further consider the inclusion of trans athletes in women’s competitions. Their role will be to consult with trans athletes to learn their views on women’s track and field competition.

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe has stated that: “Decisions are always difficult when they involve conflicting needs and rights between different groups, but we continue to take the view that we must maintain fairness for female athletes above all other considerations. We will be guided in this by the science around physical performance and male advantage which will inevitably develop over the coming years. As more evidence becomes available, we will review our position, but we believe the integrity of the female category in athletics is paramount.”

Bioethical assessment

Gender transition processes pose problems that are difficult to solve. The evident genetic, anatomical, constitutional, endocrine or psychological differences between the male and female sexes confer different capacities conditioned by these differences.

The implementation of gender transition therapies, pharmacological or surgical, does not succeed in overriding them to the point of converting the masculine into feminine and vice versa.

The evaluation of testosterone as the only indicator to allow or not the joint competition with trans athletes proves to be an insufficient indicator. The maintenance of low values of this hormone for a period of time does not prevent the body, muscle or cardiovascular development that occurs prior to the administration of pharmacological or surgical treatments.

Promoting equality in dignity and rights, which constitutes an unavoidable duty for all, should not be confused with nullifying differences, because trying to do so constitutes, in fact, a form of discrimination, as we have previously reported in the cases that have occurred in other sports.

The problems associated with the phenomenon of transsexuality, in the field of competition and others, have their origin in the claim to annul biology and its transcendence in the identity of the human being.

Being sexual affects the whole person, it is constitutive of their identity, genetically determined from conception and conditions aptitudes, behavior, and performance in different areas. The processes of gender transition do not annul these differences, although they do modify them, underlying in any case to a greater or lesser degree the masculine or feminine phenotype determined by genetics.

Julio Tudela and Ester Bosch

Bioethics Observatory- Institute of Life Sciences

Catholic University of Valencia


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