Experts fear FIFA’s move to make it easier for transgender women could hurt ‘women’s’ football

FIFA has developed new regulations that make it easier for transgender women to participate in women’s football, The Sunday Mail can reveal.

The ruling body’s draft framework has removed its testosterone threshold for transgender women and proposed that footballers be allowed to compete as a self-identified gender.

The new regulations are still in the consultation stage and it is understood that some FIFA senior management are not convinced that they should be published in their current form.

But it would represent a sea change if the governing body of the world’s most popular sport aligned itself so strongly with transgender inclusion in the debate that has divided the sport.

Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, tightened its eligibility criteria for the women’s category last week, after being reconsidered by the case of British trans-cyclist Emily Bridges.

The UCI lowered the testosterone limit from five to 2.5 nanomoles per liter and doubled the length of time a trans athlete must suppress her testosterone within that range to two years.

FIFA has drawn up regulations that make it easier for transgender women to participate in women’s football, with the governing body framework removing its testosterone threshold

Transgender rider Emily Bridges faces being blocked from major events for at least two years

Transgender rider Emily Bridges faces being blocked from major events for at least two years

However, FIFA, following an internal review that began in 2020, lowered its old limit by five nmole/L over 12 months and recommended that no threshold be adopted.

They proposed that a transgender woman would not be allowed to compete in the women’s category if she retained a competitive advantage following male puberty. How this would be determined is unclear, but a panel of independent experts from the fields of medicine, psychology, law and human rights would be called upon to assess each individual case.

The guidelines cover footballers with differences in sex development (DSD) as well as transgender athletes.

Human rights experts have welcomed the prospect of a set of regulations that would appear to closely follow the precedent set by the International Olympic Committee. They released a framework for transgender inclusion last year that also lowered their recommended testosterone threshold.

FIFA may propose that footballers be allowed to compete as a self-identified gender

FIFA may propose that footballers be allowed to compete as a self-identified gender

However, sports scientists, many of whom have criticized the IOC framework, have also expressed concern about the potential impact of FIFA’s proposals.

Professor Jurgen Steinacker, chairman of World Rowing’s sports medicine commission, has warned that they could effectively “dissolve” the women’s category by allowing players to identify with it.

“Assessing each case individually and holistically sounds good, but it’s hard to see how the independent panel could work without criteria,” said Steinacker, who helped develop World Rowing’s guidelines for transgender and DSD athletes. “As things stand, the proposed regulations seem arbitrary. Experts are advised to “refrain” from using fixed thresholds for testosterone and other medical indicators. So, can they use them or not?

“If you’re allowed to self-identify and your fitness is then determined by a set of medical factors, you could end up dissolving the female category,” Steinacker said. ‘Go to its logical conclusion and a football player could be categorized by anthropometry [the practice of taking measurements of the human body].’

Quinn, the Canadian transgender man, became the first transgender athlete to win an Olympic medal when she won gold in the women's soccer tournament at the Tokyo Games

Quinn, the Canadian transgender man, became the first transgender athlete to win an Olympic medal when she won gold in the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Games

No transgender women are known to have participated in elite women’s football. Quinn, the Canadian transgender man, became the first transgender athlete to win an Olympic medal when she won gold in the women’s soccer tournament at the Tokyo Games last summer. How to limit participation in the female category is a hotly debated issue and it is generally agreed that more research is needed on testosterone and other biological markers that distinguish males from females.

Professor Roger Pielke Jnr, a Colorado-based sports policy expert, said FIFA would show strong leadership if it stuck to its draft guidelines broadly. “My first impression is that FIFA’s proposed regulations are a major step forward for policies that balance fairness and inclusion,” Pielke said.

“This is for three reasons: 1) They are consistent with broader policies, laws and human rights instruments; 2) They adhere to the guidelines of the IOC Fairness Framework; 3) They come from FIFA which, while not always a leader in sports governance, is no less influential and shows real leadership here. FIFA may be paving the way for other international sports federations.

FIFA’s guidelines are now the subject of an external consultation where they will seek input from independent experts in a debate that has become increasingly toxic.

The Mail on Sunday revealed in January that a group of 38 medical experts and prominent sports health professionals had signed a statement saying the IOC framework threatened to undermine the integrity of sport.

The position paper from people linked to the International Federation of Sports Medicine and the European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations argued that the new guidelines were not ‘scientific or medical’ and were unfair to female athletes .

Dr Alun Williams, who works at Manchester Metropolitan University, has co-authored an ‘expert statement’ on transgender participation for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science.

He questioned the basic principle of the draft FIFA regulations that a player should be allowed to identify in the gender of their choice.

“A starting point that trans women are eligible to play in the female category, in a sport like football, contradicts the logical conclusion from the mountain of evidence showing that those born male and going through male puberty Normal have several physical advantages over those born female, and likely put female borns at a higher risk of injury during direct physical contact,” Williams said.

Experts discuss whether gamers should be able to identify with the gender of their choice

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