Athletics banned transgender athletes from international competition on Thursday, while new regulations were adopted that could prevent Caster Semenya and other gender-differentiated athletes from competing.
In a pair of decisions expected to spark outrage, the World Athletics Council adopted the same rules as swimming last year when it decided to ban athletes who have transitioned from male to female and gone through male puberty. Currently, there are no such athletes competing at the highest elite levels of track.
Another set of updates, for athletes with gender differences (DSD), could affect up to 13 current high-level runners, WA president Sebastian Coe said. Among them is Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion in the 800 meters, who has been banned from the event since 2019.
Semenya and others were able to compete without restrictions in events outside the 400m to one mile range, but will now have to undergo hormone suppression treatment for six months before competing to be eligible.
Coe acknowledged there are no easy answers to the topic, which has become a social lightning rod that includes advocates working to maintain a level playing field in women’s sports and others who do not want to discriminate against transgender and DSD athletes.
“All the decisions we’ve made have their challenges,” Coe said. “If that is the case, then we will do what we have done in the past, which is to defend our position vigorously. And the main principle for me is that we will always do what we think is in the best interest of our sport.”
Gender-differentiated athletes such as Semenya and Olympic 200m silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia are not transgender, although the two issues have similarities when it comes to sports.
Such athletes are legally identified as female at birth but have a medical condition that leads to some male characteristics, including high testosterone levels that World Athletics claims gives them the same kind of unfair advantage as transgender athletes.
Semenya competed in the longer events. At the World Championships last year, she finished in 13th place in the 5,000 meter qualifying race. In a recent interview, she said that her goal is to run a longer distance at the Olympics.
“I’m in the adaptation phase and my body is starting to adapt. Right now I’m just enjoying myself and things will fall into place at the right time,” said the South African runner.
Now, to compete in next year’s Olympics, she would have to undergo hormone-suppressing treatment for six months, something she said she would never do again, having undergone the treatment a decade ago under the previous rules.
Mboma, who won silver in Tokyo two years ago but was out of the world last year due to injury, has not publicly stated whether she would be willing to undergo hormone therapy.
Another athlete, Olympic 800m silver medalist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, also said she would not undergo treatment. While Semenya struggled at longer distances, Niyonsaba had relative success, winning the Diamond League titles in the 3,000 and 5,000 meters and running the 5,000 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Under the new regulations, athletes in previously “unrestricted” events would have to suppress testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles per liter of blood for six months. Ultimately, they would have to stay below those levels for two years.
Previously, gender-differentiated athletes had to lower their testosterone to below 5 nanomoles per liter of blood at least six months before competing, and the rules only applied to distances between 400 meters and one mile.
AP sports writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.
More AP coverage of the Paris Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports