British Triathlon announced Wednesday that competition categories in 2023 will change to a structure for a “female” category, limited to those defined as “the female sex at birth”, and an “open” category that would include cisgender men, transgender men and women, and non-binary athletes competing together. In recreational or non-competitive activities, a given athlete can participate under the gender in which they identify.

The policy comes weeks after world governing bodies for cycling, swimming and rugby league announced change that curtail or eliminate transgender women from elite-level female competition.

British Triathlon is perhaps the first national governing body to make this restrictive of a decision prior to policy from a world governing body. World Triathlon is in the middle of its own policy review on the issue.

British Triathlon CEO Andy Salmon, in an interview with the BBC, said that a revised policy was necessary.

“We didn’t want to be a governing body that waited for that to be a problem before we tried to fix it,” Salmon noted. “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow or the next day, and we wanted to be ready for that day.”

The new policy document reads in part:

The scientific research examining whether those retained physiological/biological advantages translate into a retained sporting performance advantage for transgender women post transition (compared with pre-transition and/or cis women) is somewhat limited. However, the science that does currently exist strongly challenges the idea that testosterone suppression alone sufficiently removes the retained sporting performance advantage of transwomen.

The framework was built with the guidance of the nation’s much-discussed and criticized Sport Council Equality Group convened last year. The policy document also cited work done by a working group within British Triathlon, citing recent research papers by researcher Johanna Harper, and researchers Emma Hilton and Tommy Lundberg. The latter two both appeared at the recent Independent Council on Women’s Sports Conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago, alongside representatives of organizations that are seen by some as anti-trans.

Salmon stated their working group’s conclusions solidified a view of their sport being “gender affected” and claiming that transgender women may have competitive advantage over cisgender women. He also noted the criticism the organization may receive, especially with a policy where those who may not identify as male would have to receive a “male” competition license.

“I have total empathy with transgender athletes. We absolutely want them to be included,” Salmon said. “The decision we had to take is in that competitive setting. How do we protect fair competition? That is what this policy is all about, but we also laid out how those athletes can take part in our sport in competitive activity.”

Criticism of the new policy centered largely on what looks to be blanket policy toward excluding transgender women. The UK-based Trans Legal Project, in a statement via Twitter, noted that the policy would “reclassify all trans women at all levels of their sport effectively as men.”

Their statement also notes the lack of delineation within the new policy between those who may have transitioned later in life and others who never experienced male puberty. The new regulations do not cover issues such as hormone replacement or affirming surgical procedures that have been a key part of the current policy which remains in effect to January 1, 2023.

“It covers all events that are ‘timed’, so all competition, of any kind, right down to grassroots level,” the Trans Legal Project statement reads. “This ban is not based on science, nor compassion, nor on attempts to understand. It is not an attempt to look at the issues as they may affect their sport. It is not even confined to elite sport. It’s an ideologically based total ban.”

U.S. duathlete Chris Mosier criticized the British Triathlon policy saying, “Separate is never equal. Period. Forcing athletes to a separate third category is not a solution for inclusion.”

American multi-event athlete Chris Mosier, the first transgender athlete to make a U.S. national team, called the policy “discrimination plain and simple.”

“By creating a transphobic policy, British Triathlon is showing it not only tolerates transphobic behavior, it is actually leading the way,” Mosier stated via Twitter. “Policies that ban trans people encourage transphobia towards trans people.”