British Athletics want ‘open’ category for transgender women to compete with men

UK Athletics want to create an ‘open’ category in which transgender women would compete alongside men but claim they are legally unable to do so.

UK Athletics’ claim that they are powerless to change their regulations will increase the pressure on the government to amend the law to provide clarity, with the Rugby Football Union and British Triathlon taking steps to prevent trans athletes from playing alongside women. 

Citing the Gender Recognition Act of 2004, which states that people with gender recognition certificates have to be treated as female for all purposes, Ian Beattie, the chairman of UK Athletics, argued that his organisation’s hands were tied.

“It would be very difficult for us to go ahead with something where we had a legal opinion telling us to contravene some of the legislation in place,” Beattie said. “That would be very difficult for us.”

Even though they recognise the inherent unfairness of the established laws for biological females, and despite scientific studies showing that male advantage is retained despite extended courses of testosterone suppression, UK Athletics remain hesitant to act.

This mirrors the situation at World Athletics, where, in spite of president Sebastian Coe’s pronouncement that “biology trumps gender”, the global body’s preferred option would be a fudge, where trans athlete are still permitted to compete as long as they reduce their testosterone below 2.5 nanomoles per litre over a two-year period. This level is still well above normal female range and does not take into account literature indicating that the cardiovascular benefits of male puberty are retained irrespective of suppressants.

“Certainly there has been correspondence with senior ministers and so on, on this area,” Beattie said. “I think ultimately, we’re very keen that we all recognise what we’ve got responsibility for, and government are the only ones who can change legislation. So that’s where we would look for that focus to be set. Certainly I think they’re sympathetic to the approach that we want to take. That has been the feedback that we’ve had.

“World Athletics will make rules for world competition. We all have to abide by them. Whatever that rule comes out as, at the moment, we’re at the point we’ve been asked to input. We’re inputting and hopefully influencing. This is an issue specifically with British legislation. It’s the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equalities Act 2010. There’s not an exemption for that for sporting purposes.”

Fiona McAnena, director of sport for Fair Play for Women, said: “It’s good to see UK Athletics agreeing that the female category in sport should be only for those born female. The male advantage gained at puberty can’t be undone. We all know this.

“It is disappointing that UKA is not ready to act on this belief for legal reasons. But it is obvious not everyone agrees with their legal advice, because other sports have made the move back to fairness for females. We need leadership on this now so that sports know they can make sport fair for women and girls.”