UK Athletics will apply World Athletics’ rules on exclusion of transgender women from elite female competitions, the governing body said on Friday, adding that it had received the “required assurances” on the legality of the measures.
Athletics’ global governing body last week voted to ban competitors who have gone through male puberty from participating in women’s events, citing a “need to protect the female category”.
Transgender rights become a major talking point in recent months as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage, with LGBTQI advocacy groups saying excluding trans athletes amounts to discrimination.
In February, UK Athletics said it wants the women’s category to be reserved for those who were female at birth to ensure fair competition while transgender athletes can compete in an “open” category alongside the men.
At the time, UKA said its hands are tied as they cannot prevent transgender athletes from competing in the women’s category unless the government changes the law.
According to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act, UK Athletics are duty bound to “treat those trans women with a Gender Recognition Certificate as female for all purposes”.
However, the Equality Act 2010 has an exemption for sport, making it lawful to restrict participation of transgender athletes “if this is necessary to uphold fair or safe competition”.
In its statement on Friday, UK Athletics said it had “received the required assurances from relevant bodies that the sporting exemption in the Equality Act 2010 applies to the Gender Recognition Act 2004”.
It added that it would enforce World Athletics’ regulations to competitions in the UK from March 31.
“(UK Athletics) will work with its Transgender Project Group and the Home Country Athletics Federations to develop a Transgender Eligibility Policy for use in the United Kingdom,” the body said.
“Consideration will be given to changing the current male category to an open category.”
The debate surrounding transgender athletes intensified last year when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle.
Swimming’s world governing body FINA voted to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions, which led to several other sporting bodies doing the same.
Advocates for transgender inclusion say that there are relatively few trans women athletes and that not enough studies have been done on the impact of transition on physical performance.