Debbie Hayton Debbie Hayton

Why did it take Seb Coe so long to see sense over transgender athletes?

(Credit: Getty images)

World Athletics has decided to protect women’s sport by restricting it to females. From 31 March, transwomen will not be allowed to compete in elite female competitions if they have gone through male puberty. Following yesterday’s meeting of the World Athletics Council, Seb Coe – the governing body’s president – explained that the decision was ‘guided by the overarching principle which is to protect the female category’.

That decision should be welcomed by everyone, but why did it take them so long? Swimming’s world governing body came to the same conclusion last summer; world rugby got there in 2020. Athletics, meanwhile, dithered and fiddled with rules based on the level of testosterone in an athlete’s blood. Should the cut-off be set at ten nanomoles per litre, or should it be just five? Recently, two and a half was mooted. These appeared to be little more than arbitrary lines, set at a level somewhere between the typical male and the typical female.

Has this truth registered with Stonewall?

But men and women are, of course, not defined by the hormones in their blood. Men can have low testosterone for a host of different reasons. Those being treated for prostate cancer – a condition that can be aggravated by testosterone – may be prescribed drugs to shut off the production of testosterone, for example. Nobody, however, is suggesting that those men be allowed to compete with women to somehow compensate for any loss of competitive edge.

In a nutshell, the argument made by some is effectively that if someone feels they are a woman then they should be able to compete against women. It might be nonsense, but so is the oft-chanted slogan, ‘transwomen are women’. The simple truth is that transwomen are male and therefore should compete against other males.

But has this truth registered with Stonewall? Last night the ‘lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace’ (asexual) organisation expressed its disappointment, deploring World Athletics’ ‘unilateral ban on trans women in track and field events’.

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