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Most sports are separated into male and female sex categories based on the large sports performance gap between male and female athletes. Transgender people have a gender identity that differs from their sex registered at birth. The current debate in elite sports is based on how to include transgender athletes in categories that align with their gender identity, while maintaining fairness in competition. The debate is particularly focused on the participation of transgender women in the female category, and development of eligibility criteria to maintain fairness. In the past year, many international and domestic sports organisations have updated their regulations on the inclusion of transgender athletes, with differing approaches.   

Key points

  • Data across sports shows that male athletes have a sport performance advantage over female. Sport is separated into sex categories to ensure competitive fairness and and in some sports, on athlete safety ground for female athletes.  
  • Some transgender people transition to change their gender presentation. This may involve hormone therapy and/or surgery. For transgender women, this could involve hormone treatment to suppress their testosterone levels and increase their oestrogen levels.  
  • Research to date on transgender women which measures the effects of hormone therapy on parameters such as lean body mass, muscle strength and muscle mass suggests that hormone therapy may not be sufficient to reduce any performance advantage that they may have over women who are not transgender.
  • In 2021, the International Olympic Committee announced a new framework advocating for the prioritisation of human rights of transgender athletes, and delegating responsibility for creating regulations to individual sports organisations. 
  • In the last year, many international sports organisations have announced regulations on the participation of transgender athletes in international competition, with varying approaches seeking to balance inclusion, fairness and physical safety. Some organisations, such as World Triathlon and UCI allow participation of trans women in the female category if they reduce their testosterone level. Others, such as FINA, permit participation in the female category if transgender women transitioned prior to puberty. Others, such as World Rugby, have banned transgender women from competing in the female category on the grounds of injury risk to other competitors.  
  • In 2021, the UK Sports Councils published guidelines to support national sports governing bodies in creating regulations for domestic competition across all levels of participation, including grassroots sport. Many organisations are now updating their rules.
  • Stakeholder views vary on how transgender people can be included in sports competitions. Some groups believe that the sports performance advantage of transgender women is unfair to women who are not transgender and that they should not be allowed to compete in the category of their gender identity. Other groups believe that transgender people should be able to compete in their chosen gender identity without restriction.  
  • Regulations for elite sport competitions have an impact on participation in sports at recreational level.   


POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer-reviewed. POST would like to thank consultees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Members of the POST Board*
  • Sam Winemiller, Athlete Ally*
  • Professor John Brewer, University of the West of Scotland*
  • Dr Roslyn Carbon, Carbmill Consulting* 
  • Jonathan Cooper, University of Gloucestershire* 
  • Department for Culture, Media and Sport* 
  • Cathy Devine, Independent Researcher* 
  • Gendered Intelligence* 
  • Government Equalities Office*
  • Blair Hamilton, University of Brighton* 
  • Joanna Harper, Loughborough University* 
  • Professor Richard Holt, University of Southampton*  
  • LEAP Sports Scotland* 
  • Mermaids*
  • Fiona McAnena, Fair Play For Women*
  • Dr Seema Patel, Nottingham Trent University* 
  • Professor Roger Pielke, University of Colorado Boulder*
  • Dr Jon Pike, Open University
  • Professor Yannis Pitsiladis, University of Brighton* 
  • Sport England*  
  • Stonewall* 
  • UK Sport* 
  • Professor Alun Williams, Manchester Metropolitan University*
  • Women in Sport* 
  • World Athletics* 
  • World Rugby* 

*denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.

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