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UCI tightens testosterone rules for transgender athletes

Permitted limits allowed from 1 March will be half those that applied previously

The UCI has tightened testosterone rules for transgender athletes who have transitioned from male to female to compete in women’s events, with the governing body halving the current limits.

While stricter regulations will now apply, the governing body stopped short of imposing a total ban on transgender cyclists competing as women which some campaigners, including pressure groups Fair Play for Women and Save Women’s Sport had urged.

Pressure on the UCI to act intensified after Canada’s Rachel McKinnon, who was born male, retained her 35-39 age group women’s 200 metre sprint title at the UCI Masters Track Cycling World Championships in Manchester in October last year.

> Transgender debate continues as Dr Rachel McKinnon retains world title

Announcing the new regulations, which were agreed by its management committee when it met last month at the Cyclo-cross World Championships in Dübendorf, Switzerland, the UCI said: “The new regulations, which will come into effect on 1 March 2020, are designed to encourage transgender athletes to compete in the category corresponding to their new gender, while guaranteeing a level playing field for all athletes in the competitions in question.”

Current rules are those adopted at a consensus meeting arranged by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2015, but which were reviewed, particularly for male-to-female athletes, at a meeting in Lausanne last October, attended by the UCI, other governing bodies, plus experts on the subject and representatives of transgender and cisgender athletes.

One aspect of the new consensus is that is that “if a federation decides to use testosterone as an indicator, the transgender athlete will only be eligible to compete in the women category if their serum testosterone level is below 5 nmol/L” – half the current level.

Explaining the eligibility criteria, the UCI said:

All transgender athletes wishing to compete in the category corresponding to their new gender must make their request to the medical manager appointed by the UCI, at least six weeks before the date of the first competition.

The athlete’s file will be passed on to a commission of three international experts independent of the UCI. The commission’s members will assess the athlete’s eligibility to compete in the new gender category and will inform the UCI’s medical officer of their conclusions.   

The athlete must prove that their serum testosterone level has been below 5 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to the eligibility date.  

Once deemed eligible, the athlete must agree to keep their serum testosterone level below 5 nmol/L for the entire time they compete in the Women category.

The athlete must undergo serum testosterone tests conducted using a benchmark method (mass spectrometry).

After an athlete has had their eligibility confirmed , “the UCI’s medical manager will be responsible for ensuring the athlete complies with the eligibility regulations throughout their sporting career.

“Should they fail to do so, the medical manager may choose to suspend their eligibility to compete until such time as the athlete proves that they are able to comply with the criteria again.”

The UCI added: “In the event of any breach of the regulations, a penalty system shall come into effect. Penalties shall range from a mere reprimand and warning to disqualification and a fine.”

UCI President David Lappartient said: “The adoption of new directives in the UCI Regulations will provide the cycling community as a whole with a clearly defined regulatory framework that applies to everyone.

“Thanks to this consensus, achieved by a working group representing our sport’s various stakeholders, our federation has given itself the wherewithal to take into consideration – and in reflection of developments in our society – the desire of transgender athletes to compete, while guaranteeing a level playing field for all competitors.

“This is an important step in the inclusion of transgender athletes in elite sport,” he added.

While the rules may have been tightened, nothing short of an outright ban is likely to satisfy critics, with the issue transcending sport as it ties in with wider attitudes in society regarding transgender people.

In December, McKinnon revealed that she had seen a huge increase in hate mail and had even received death threats, since Donald Trump Junior, in the wake of her world title defence, said that transgender athletes would "destroy women's sports."

> Transgender track cyclist Rachel McKinnon blames Donald Trump Junior for increase in hate mail

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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