Transgender women will not be able to compete against athletes born female in triathlon events in Britain from the start of next year.
Competition at elite and grassroots level from the age of 12 and over will be split into a female category and an open category, which will welcome male, transgender and non-binary athletes.
The female category will be open solely to athletes assigned the female sex at birth.
It follows on from swimming’s world governing body FINA deciding last month that any athlete who had undergone male puberty would be barred from its elite female events.
British Triathlon chief executive Andy Salmon said: “It would be conceited of us to say there isn’t a little bit of trepidation, but we firmly and passionately believe in doing what’s right for our sport, not necessarily what’s easy, or even what’s popular.
“We recognise some people might disagree with this policy. I think we’re very clear about that and I, and the board, and the organisation, respect everybody’s point of view on this subject. But we think it’s the right thing to do.
“We strongly believe that triathlon is a sport for anyone. Our sport was founded relatively late, in the 1970s, and with gender equity at its core.
“This is something that we’re incredibly proud of and incredibly precious about. And this is one of the reasons why fairness in our sport is so important to us.”
Salmon said the new policy was “legally robust” based on the advice the organisation had received.
The review took place following the publication of guidance on transgender inclusion in domestic sport by the Sports Councils’ Equality Group (SCEG) in September 2021.
The guidance concluded that the inclusion of transgender people into female sport cannot be balanced regarding transgender inclusion, fairness and safety in gender-affected sport where there is meaningful competition, due to retained physiological and biological advantages for male-born athletes over female-born athletes, with or without testosterone suppression.
Under the new British Triathlon policy, only athletes who are the female sex at birth will be eligible to represent Great Britain, England, Scotland or Wales in international events in the female category run under the auspices of World and European Triathlon.
It will also work with the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association to specify eligibility criteria for selection for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, with the intent that the selection policies replicate what has been decided by British Triathlon.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries gathered together sports governing bodies last week and told them it was “inherently unfair” to allow athletes born male to compete in female categories, saying sport had “ducked” the issue for too long.
She welcomed the new policy and tweeted: “In the world of competitive sport, the biology of athletes must be taken into consideration to maintain a level playing field for all.
“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.”
British Triathlon’s policy extends to grassroots competition, with Salmon adding: “We didn’t think it was right to have an athlete pathway where the policy didn’t apply to a certain point and then all of a sudden it did apply – that could be really exclusive to individuals.
“If people are competing at a grassroots level, doing a triathlon requires commitment. It often requires some training. And so who are we as a governing body to say to somebody who isn’t particularly quick or talented, that when they compete in a triathlon, they don’t deserve to have fair competition?
The policy does not cover non-competitive, recreational activity.
Over 3,000 members of the governing body responded to a survey conducted in April and May of this year, with eight out of 10 supporting the new approach. The respondents included 16 individuals who identified as transgender.
Focus group meetings were held involving elite athletes, staff and representatives from LGBT advocacy groups.
Seventeen one-to-one interviews took place, including three with transgender individuals.
Salmon said he was not aware of any elite-level transgender athletes in this country at the moment but added: “We very much didn’t want to be a governing body that waited for there to be a problem before we tried to fix it.”
The intention is for the policy to come into force on January 1. British Triathlon said it would be reviewed as new scientific evidence emerges in the years to come.
World Triathlon is currently reviewing its guidelines, which will be submitted for board approval in November.
LGBTQ+ rights group Stonewall criticised the “inflammatory rhetoric” which it said surrounded the issue of transgender inclusion in elite sport.
A group spokesperson said: “In sport, inclusion should always be the starting point. Everyone deserves to benefit from the sense of well-being and community that sport brings – and that includes trans people.”