British Triathlon creates 'open' category for transgender athletes

British Triathlon have announced changes to gender categories that see transgender and nonbinary athletes included in an "open" category.

The governing body announced Wednesday there would be two categories for athletes over the age of 12: "female" for those who are born female, and "open" for men and those who are born male, including transgender and nonbinary people.

British Triathlon said in a statement: "Following the publication of the Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG) Guidance for Domestic Competition in September 2021 and the subsequent announcement by the IOC in November 2021, British Triathlon has reviewed its Transgender Policy following a period of consultation to ensure that it reflects the needs of our sport, protects fairness in competition and serves our desire to make triathlon truly inclusive.

"Our policy outlines that triathlon is a sport for everyone and that transphobic behaviour will not be tolerated. It confirms that triathlon is a gender-affected sport and so for competitive events (those races that have prizes, times, and/or rankings) for athletes over the age of 12, there will be two categories; a female category, (for those who are the female sex at birth), and an open category, (for all individuals including male, transgender and those non-binary who were male sex at birth."

The governing body said they consulted over 3,000 participants in a survey earlier this year and hosted focus groups and interviews with athletes, staff, committee members and academics before making their decision.

"We started this process at the end of 2021 and went through a period of independent consultation earlier this year to explore options for categorisation into triathlon competition in Great Britain," the statement said. "This ensured that along with the latest research, we heard from our community, key groups and individuals about their views and experiences."

Adding a third category (male, female, open) was also considered, but it was concluded that under that arrangement, there would not be a significant number of athletes competing in the open category.

"Our policy stipulates an open and a female category for competitive events and an open format for non-competitive ones," British Triathlon said in its Transgender Policy FAQs statement, which was released in June. "We will be working on guidance to support event organisers to run these categories well for all participants."

British Triathlon are believed to be the first governing body in the UK to announce an open category. The changes follow FINA's decision to restrict transgender women competing in women's elite categories in swimming. FINA created a group to consult over a period of six months how best to introduce the changes.

In June the UCI reviewed their transgender policies to enforce a longer time frame for riders who have transitioned before they can compete in their chosen category, while athletics boss Lord Coe said the sport would consider proposals.

Andy Salmon, chief executive of British Triathlon, told the BBC: "We've concluded that triathlon is a gender-affected sport and this is a legally defining term. What it means is that somebody born male will have a physiological advantage over somebody born female. In our sport, which involves swim, bike, run, that will give someone a significant advantage.

"Secondly, when someone suppresses testosterone, the science tells us that the advantage is retained and therefore competition cannot be fair. Our motivation was for doing the right thing for our sport in Britain. We firmly believe we are doing that. We have studied the science -- the science is clear -- it's legally robust. So we are confident we are doing the right thing for the sport."

He added: "I have total empathy and sympathy for transgender athletes who want to be included, but the decision we have to take is in that competitive setting, how do we protect fairness and competition, and that's what this policy is all about. But we've also laid out how those athletes can take part in our sport, in competitive activity. The majority of triathlon activity is at club level, or individual level. When people train together they can do so without needing to declare their gender."

The changes apply to British-only events. For athletes competing internationally, British Triathlon said they will consult with the British Olympic Association, and only people who are the female sex at birth will be eligible to be selected to represent GB for international events in the female category, irrespective of World or European Triathlon policy.

Additionally, British Triathlon said they will consult with race organisers and develop guidelines for event organisers and clubs to implement the changes, which come into effect in January 2023.

The statement added: "This guidance will support the implementation of this policy and serve to ensure that our sport continues to develop in being welcoming, supportive and inclusive for everyone.

"British Triathlon wants to make clear, that it does not tolerate transphobic behaviour, harassment, bullying or hate speech of any kind. Anyone commenting on our policy, should do so with empathy and consideration for all of those who have been involved and who may still have questions and concerns about how the policy impacts them."

In June, following FINA's decision, UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries met with representatives from Sport England and encouraged other sports to follow suit.

"Sex has biological consequences," she said. "I'm setting a very clear line on this: Competitive women's sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex. Not someone who was born male, took puberty blockers or has suppressed testosterone, but unequivocally and unarguably someone who was born female. I want all of our sporting governing bodies to follow that policy."

"In the world of competitive sport, the biology of athletes must be taken into consideration to maintain a level playing field for all," Dorries tweeted following British Triathlon's announcement. "This is of utmost importance in power and endurance sports like triathlon and I welcome @BritTri approach to this issue. We will continue to support sports' governing bodies to find a way forward that protects and shows compassion to all athletes while maintaining sport's integrity and fairness."