STORY: Halba Diouf dreams of running under France’s banner in the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris…
The 21-year-old has been training hard to improve her timings in the 200 meter.
But as a transgender woman, her hopes were dashed in March when the World Athletics Council banned athletes like her from competing in women’s events.
WA President Sebastien Coe cited a common refrain – the “need to protect the female category” …
a frequently used justification for the outright exclusion of trans women from athletic competition.
The ban has left Diouf feeling “marginalized” and “hounded.”
"Even if we are a minority, we deserve to live freely, we deserve to take part in competitions and to compete in our category and we are being refused that. And the only safeguard transgender women have is their right to live as they wish and we are being refused that. For me it's persecution. I don't quite understand."
Up until World Athletics’ latest move, transgender female athletes could take part in top competitions as long as their levels of natural testosterone were below a certain threshold…
Five nanomoles per liter of blood – a standard set in 2018 that threw into question the participation of elite female athletes with differences in sexual development (DSD) like South Africa’s Caster Semenya.
World Athletics – then known as the International Association of Athletics – recommended oral contraceptives to bring certain female athletes under the threshold.
The regulations were roundly criticized by the World Medical Association on ethical grounds.
In March, regulations for natural testosterone – often perceived as the sole determinant of athletic performance – were halved to 2.5 nanomoles for female athletes and must be maintained for two years for DSD athletes.
And still, Diouf meets that requirement.
"I started my hormonal treatment three years ago, in January 2020, when I came to South of France. I started it with estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone blockers. I could see results after three, four months. (flash) It was progressive, I mean you don't become a woman overnight, it really does take time. It's gradual."
“Her testosterone levels are currently below those found on average in women who were born as women, cisgender women."
Diouf’s endocrinologist Alain Berliner finds the ban confusing and calls it a "kind of transphobia.”
"For this laboratory, the testosterone level for a woman is between 0.08 and, let's say, 0.50 (micrograms per liter - 0.28 to 1.67 nanomoles per liter) and Halba has 0.21 (0.73 nanomoles per liter). So she is absolutely not advantaged in sports by the testosterone because she has very, very little. In Halba's case, who is a woman in every sense of the word - she is hormonally a woman - and from a physiological and legal point of view, a woman. Everything is in order.”
LGBTQI advocacy groups say excluding trans athletes amounts to discrimination.
And Diouf is determined to fight for her right to compete.
“For me there's no plan B, there's no giving up on the Olympics. For me 'no' is not an option.”