British Triathlon will soon introduce two categories for competition – one for athletes who were female at birth and one “open” category for men, transgender women and non-binary athletes.
The decision aims to create a transparent, fair and inclusive sport and has been reached after months of research and consultation.
It comes after FINA, the governing body for swimming, voted last month to bar transgender women from competing in women’s elite races while several further sports are reviewing their policies on inclusion.
Some governing bodies are considering introducing the “open” categories, but the British Triathlon is believed to be the first to implement one.
“We passionately believe that triathlon is a sport for anyone,” said Andy Salmon, chief executive of British Triathlon, as he explained the move.
He said that athletes who have been through male puberty hold a “significant advantage” in each of the swim, bike and run disciplines of triathlon.
The policy will come into effect on 1 January 2023 and will stipulate that competitive triathlon events in Great Britain will be split into the two categories for athletes over the age of 12.
Currently transgender women compete against other women providing they meet the British Triathlon criteria which includes a measurement of the athlete’s testosterone levels.
While acknowledging that the debate around inclusion is a “complex and polarising issue”, Mr Salmon said that the governing body wanted to ensure that they wanted to do what is right for the sport.
“I plead with everybody to comment on this policy with sensitivity and respect,” he added.
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Last week Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries expressed her frustration that sport’s governing bodies have not resolved the debate around transgender inclusion earlier.
She urged sports to protect fairness above inclusion, but British Triathlon insisted their policy was agreed before their recent meeting with the culture secretary and was formulated “free from political pressure”.
Of the 3,167 British Triathlon members who were surveyed 80% favored the new model. Sixteen of the respondents said they identified as transgender.
British Triathlon said they had held more detailed discussions about the policy change with three transgender triathletes.
Mr Salmon insisted that they wanted a policy that would be futureproof: “Right now we are not aware of any elite level transgender athletes (in triathlon) but we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day.”