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British Rowing bans trans athletes from women’s competition

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The decision reverses last year’s announcement that the UK would align with World Rowing guidelines

Transgender athletes will be barred from representing Great Britain or England in women’s international races, British Rowing announced on Thursday. The new rules take effect on September 11.

While only athletes “assigned female at birth” may compete in the women’s category, trans rowers have the option of competing in an “open” category, and event organizers may choose to offer a “mixed” category if 50% of crew members were born female.

British Rowing is committed to promoting an environment in which rowing is accessible and inclusive and to ensuring that we provide opportunities and enjoyment for everyone,” the body said in a statement, promising to review the guidelines within 12 months.

The decision represents a reversal of last year’s announcement that British Rowing’s eligibility requirements would be “aligned with, and not more restrictive than, those of World Rowing.

World Rowing currently allows trans athletes to compete as female if they reduce their testosterone levels to below 2.5 nanomoles per liter for a 12-month period, having recently reduced the level from 5 nmol/liter. The International Olympic Committee has moved away from testosterone-centered guidelines in recent years and as of 2021 forbids the exclusion of athletes from competition based on presumed anatomical advantages. 

Last year, Mark Davies, the chairman of British Rowing, asked World Rowing to follow the example of swimming body Fina in having “open” and “women’s” categories. They have not done so as of the group’s latest announcement. 

In July, World Aquatics announced an “open” category for transgender swimmers after last year announcing that trans athletes who had undergone male puberty or had gender reassignment surgery after the age of 12 would be barred from female events. 

Also last month, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world sports arbiter for cycling, announced that male-born trans athletes who transitioned after puberty would be kept out of women’s events in order to “ensure equal opportunities.

The first world sports body to make such an announcement was the International Rugby League, which barred trans women from women’s rugby matches last year, citing a need for “additional research” before male-born athletes could be permitted to engage in the full-contact sport with women.

While trans advocates say genetically male athletes should be able to compete as women if they have passed certain transition milestones, a recent study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that even after 10 years of hormone treatment, transwomen (i.e., born males) were 18% stronger and had 20% higher aerobic capacity than biological women of similar age and background. 

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