In recent years, a stunning number of influential organizations have chosen to ignore reality and blindly follow the prevailing political winds of the day. That’s what makes UK Athletics’ recent ”Statement on Transgender Participation in Athletics” so refreshing.
UKA is the governing body for the sport of “athletics,” or track and field, in the United Kingdom. It is a member federation of World Athletics, and it oversees the sport throughout the country. On Feb. 3, UK Athletics detailed its position on male athletes who identify as transgender participating in women’s sports, and it’s safe to say the guidance will cause substantial debate.
First, UK Athletics said it “does not agree with the use of testosterone suppression” for male athletes who identify as female. It cited evidence from the UK Sports Council Equality Group that showed male athletes still have biological advantages over females even after testosterone suppression. In addition, UKA said there was insufficient evidence about the safety and long-term effects of testosterone suppression.
Second, UKA correctly recalled that the category of “women’s athletics” was originally created to include female athletes in the sport.
Since it was broadly understood that male athletes have numerous physical advantages over females, a women’s category was created to eliminate those advantages by allowing female athletes to compete against each other. UK Athletics understands that if it allows male athletes to compete in the women’s category, it will nullify the very purpose of having a “women’s athletics” category at all. Instead, UKA suggested an “open” category where all athletes can compete.
These positions should not be controversial. Numerous studies have found that male athletes maintain an advantage over females even after testosterone suppression, and the results when male athletes who identify as female compete against women have proven this to be true. But for some reason, UKA’s position is not accepted by many other organizations.
World Athletics, the governing organization of which UKA is a member, said in January that it continues to recommend allowing male athletes to compete in women’s sports.
It suggested male athletes who identify as female should be subject to testosterone limits, and it signaled a willingness to tighten those limits. Nonetheless, it said male athletes whose testosterone levels are low enough should be allowed to compete against women even though evidence shows these athletes still hold physical advantages.
UKA Chair Ian Beattie understands that World Athletics and many others disagree with his organization’s stance, but he did not back down.
“Athletics is an incredibly inclusive sport and we want it to be a welcoming environment for all to enjoy competing in,” Beattie said in a statement.
“I cannot think of another sport that encompasses such a diverse community and it is something to be proud of. At the same time, we also have a duty to ensure fairness in competition in the women’s category.”
UKA’s willingness to stand for the truth is a big step in the right direction for women’s athletics. While World Athletics continued to ignore reality and bow to the demands of activists, at least one member organization is bucking the trend and standing up for female athletes.
UKA’s position could be the start of more protections for female athletes, but it will take more work.
What lies ahead
In its position statement, UKA said it doesn’t believe it can exclude some male athletes from participating in women’s sports without violating the law in the UK as it currently stands. That’s because according to the UK’s Gender Recognition Act 2004, males who identify as female and have taken the required steps to get a “Gender Recognition Certificate” must be treated as females for all purposes.
While the law previously included an exemption for sports, that was repealed in October 2010. The UK’s Equality Act 2010 does include a “sporting exemption,” but UKA said there is no language indicating that exemption extends to the Gender Recognition Act.
Encouraging as it is to see UKA stand up for female athletes, it is not enough. As long as laws that ignore science and biological reality like the Gender Recognition Act are on the books, governing bodies cannot protect the integrity of women’s sports even if they want to. We must continue to advocate for reality and fairness for women in sports around the world.