British Rowing to ban transgender athletes from women's events after members urge policy change

British Rowing to ban transgender athletes from women's sport after members urge policy change

British Rowing to ban transgender athletes from women’s sport after members urge policy change

British Rowing is expected to announce a dramatic abandoning of its controversial transgender policy on Thursday by restricting the women’s category solely to those born female, Telegraph Sport can reveal.

After months of intense discussion at board level, the governing body has decided to follow the majority view of its 31,500 members, more than 80 per cent of whom are understood to have urged a change in approach that would ensure the fairness and integrity of the female category.

Until now, transgender athletes have been able to compete in elite British female rowing races so long as they could show their testosterone serum levels were below five nanomoles per litre, despite an average range for women of between 0.5 and 2.4. But under the revised rules, these events are to be protected exclusively for rowers who are biologically female.

Rowing is the last of the major Olympic sports in Britain to scrap its hugely contentious rules around transgender inclusion in women’s races, with athletics, swimming and cycling all having banned biological males from female competition. In May, Telegraph Sport revealed how, at the 2015 Boat Race, a place in the Cambridge University women’s reserve crew had been taken by Sarah Gibson, who was born male and who attended an elite boys’ school.

As the overseer of perhaps the ultimate endurance sport, in which men enjoy huge physiological advantages over women, British Rowing has been under mounting pressure to toughen its transgender policy. Mark Davies, the chairman, has consistently advocated setting up an open category for transgender rowers, telling last year’s World Rowing Congress that there was a “threat for hard-fought-for progress in women’s sport”.

But he has faced opposition on his board, with one director arguing last May that “enabling transgender people to take part in sport, rather than sift them out, should be the idea”. Eventually, British Rowing allowed members a say on their preferred transgender policy, describing it not as a vote but a “canvassing of opinion”.

Dr O’Connor: ‘There is no place for males in women’s sport’

They could choose one of three approaches: a continuation of the existing rules, an alignment with World Rowing’s 2.5 nmol/l threshold, or, most significantly, a ring-fencing of women’s rowing for biological females. The results have not been officially published but sources within the sport have indicated support for the third option was overwhelming, with over four in five respondents agreeing that fairness for women needed to be prioritised over inclusion.

Davies made the same point at this year’s meeting of European rowing presidents in Copenhagen, where he drew widespread support from fellow federation chiefs. British Rowing now appears satisfied that it can deviate from the rules set by World Rowing without fear of legal jeopardy.

Dr Mary O’Connor, a former US Olympic rower who famously helped persuade Yale University to honour Title IX legislation prohibiting sex-based discrimination, has urged British Rowing for several months to show leadership on the issue. “There is no place for males in women’s sports,” she said. “Fairness in competition is absolutely foundational in sports.”

At the height of the row, a female rower racing at Henley Royal Regatta also contacted Telegraph Sport anonymously to press the case for reform. “If I’m racing side by side with a male, and a male wins my event, you wouldn’t even dream of that being a possibility,” she said. “You would expect someone to step in and say, ‘This isn’t OK.’”

Finally, it seems that these calls have been heeded.

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