What are the implications of British Triathlon’s new open category?

An ‘open’ category means closing the door to transwomen wanting to compete in the female category. It might be the fairest solution. But what happens next? 220 columnist Tim Heming investigates…

trans

The headline was that British Triathlon becomes the first British sport to create an ‘open’ category for male and transgender athletes.

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It’s understandable the governing body wanted to push with this. After all, it sounds more inclusive, a place for everybody.

But what the policy means is that from the start of next year transgender women will be barred from competing in elite and age-group female races.

A line in the sand

For absolute clarity, this ‘new’ open division isn’t a third category, as some I’ve spoken to mistakenly believe. It’s the BTF drawing a line in the sand to make a hard distinction between those born female and transgender women who have thus far been able to suppress testosterone to compete.

That will be seen as a triumph for those campaigning to protect women’s sport. Conversely, Chris Mosier, a transgender male triathlete from the USA, sees it as “discrimination, plain and simple”.  

The BTF deserve credit for addressing the issue before a flashpoint arose as it has with swimming and cycling, most recently in the cases of Lia Thomas and Emily Bridges.

“We didn’t want to be a governing body that waited for there to be a problem before we tried to fix it,” explained CEO Andy Salmon.

Don’t rule out a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination

The biggest card the BTF has to play is that the science – while more still needs to be done – seems to back up its position.

While contested by some, many experts agree that suppressing testosterone for an extended period is not enough to negate the advantages bestowed by going through male puberty.  

It’s also likely to be an overwhelmingly popular stance given that in its own research of more than 3,000 triathletes, four in five favoured the move BTF have taken.

It’s worth noting that only 0.5% identified as transgender.

What happens next

So that’s that then? Well, not really. I’ve already had one race organiser call to ask what happens if a transwoman registers for and lines up in the female category.

Disqualifying them might seem the obvious line, but in a small local race, you can envisage the issue escalating quickly. BTF says it’s developing guidance over the next few months before the policy comes into force in January, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious solution.

Furthermore, while Salmon believes their position is “legally robust”,  don’t rule out a legal challenge from a trans athlete on the grounds of discrimination.

This is yet to be properly tested, but given the International Olympic Committee softened its own position in November to say there should be no presumed advantage over trans participation, trans athletes are allowed to self-identify in amateur racing in the USA, and World Triathlon has yet to announce its stance, the sport’s rule makers are far from in complete agreement over this issue.

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Illustration: Daniel Seex