‘We’re being hounded’: French transgender sprinter decries Olympics ban

May 10, 2023 - 4:37 PM
French sprinter Halba Diouf, 21, a transgender woman athlete who dreams to compete at the Paris 2024 Olympics and Paralympics Games, attends a practice session on an athletics track in Aix-en-Provence, France May 3, 2023. (Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes)

French sprinter Halba Diouf feels she is being marginalized and hounded after her dream of participating at next year’s Paris Olympics was shattered when World Athletics (WA) banned transgender women from elite female competitions.

READ: World governing body bans transgender women athletes

Diouf had been training hard to improve her 200 meters time in the hope of running on home soil at the 2024 Games. But her ambitions were dashed in March when governing body WA banned transgender women who have gone through male puberty from competing in women’s events, citing a “need to protect the female category.”

“I cannot understand this decision as transgender women have always been allowed to compete if their testosterone levels were below a certain threshold,” Diouf told Reuters in an interview.

“The only safeguard transgender women have is their right to live as they wish and we are being refused that, we are being hounded… I feel marginalized because they are excluding me from competitions.”

Born in Senegal, Diouf arrived in France at the age of four. As an adult, she moved to Aix-en-Provence where she started hormone therapy to change sex – and her gender transition was recognized by French authorities in 2021.

The tighter measures imposed by WA around one of the most contentious and divisive issues in sport – how to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage – follow a similar move by World Aquatics in 2022.

LGBTQI advocacy groups say excluding trans athletes amounts to discrimination but WA President Sebastian Coe has said: “Decisions are always difficult when they involve conflicting needs and rights between different groups, but we continue to take the view that we must maintain fairness for female athletes above all other considerations.

Until the new rules came into force, female transgender and athletes with Differences in Sex Development (DSD) could take part in elite events between 400m and the mile only if their levels of natural plasma testosterone was below five nanomoles per liter, though 100m and 200m sprinters were clear to race.

Those rules impacted DSD athletes such as two-time Olympic 800 meter champion Caster Semenya and Francine Niyonsaba, who finished runner-up to Semenya at the 2016 Olympics – neither were allowed to compete at the 2020 Games. Namibia’s Christine Mboma shifted from her preferred 400m distance to the 200m in Tokyo and won a silver medal.

In March WA’s council cut the maximum amount of plasma testosterone for DSD athletes in half to 2.5 nanomoles per litre from five. The WA rules also stated the level must be maintained for at least 24 months before DSD athletes can compete in female competitions.

Diouf’s endocrinologist, Alain Berliner, said the 21-year-old “is a woman, from a physiological, hormonal and legal point of view.

“Her testosterone levels are currently below those found on average in women who were born as women…” he said, showing Reuters the results of her blood samples dated May 2.

Diouf, a practicing Muslim who loves shopping and wears mini-skirts as well as long djellaba robes, said she had not kept any pictures of her as a boy.

“It was not me,” she said.

—Reporting by Noemie Olive, writing by Silvia Aloisi, editing by Pritha Sarkar