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Boston, London marathons to include nonbinary category for the first time

Boston Marathon
Athletes from the elite men's field, including 2013 winner Lelisa Desisa (L), start during the 118th running of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass., on April 21, 2014. |

The Boston Marathon and London Marathon will include registration options for individuals who do not identify as a man or a woman and prefer not to compete under either category.

The Boston Athletic Association announced this week that its application for the April 17 marathon will allow people to choose a nonbinary category when registering.

“The Boston Athletic Association is currently working on expanding opportunities for non-binary athletes at our events, including the upcoming 2023 Boston Marathon,” the website reads. “Discussions are ongoing with non-binary athletes in an effort to further promote inclusion at all B.A.A. events.”

The BAA disclosed that since this is the first race to include such a category, it does not have the data to establish qualifying times for nonbinary athletes. Athletes must meet time standards based on age and gender to qualify for the Boston Marathon. 

The BAA stated that it will use a list of the qualifying times that are “inclusive” for the two existing divisions, adding that "participants can expect non-binary times to be updated accordingly."

“We view this first year as an opportunity to learn and grow together,” the statement continues. 

On Wednesday, the London Marathon announced that it will also provide a nonbinary gender option to applicants in the 2023 TCS London Marathon Ballot, which will open in October for the April 23, 2023 race.

According to a statement, the policy change follows and extensive review and consultation period by London Marathon Events as part of an effort "to make the event the most diverse, equitable and inclusive marathon in the world."

“This is a significant step forward for the TCS London Marathon as we continue our journey to make our event truly inclusive," TSC London Marathon Event Director Hugh Brasher said. 

“We know there is still much more to be done, but changes such as this demonstrate our commitment to making the TCS London Marathon an event that is for everyone.”

The announcements comes as sporting agencies have had to determine in recent years if their policies will allow for the participation of biologically male trans-identified athletes in female sporting events. There has been much political debate over the issue.

LGBT advocates contend that preventing trans-identified athletes from competing in women's sports is discriminatory. Critics of policies allowing trans-identified biologically male athletes to compete in female sporting events believe they put women and girls at a disadvantage. 

Last month, the World Boxing Council issued guidelines on "Transgender Athletes participation in professional Combat Sports," declaring that boxing matches should only occur "between two equally matched competitors."

"The WBC advocates for two equally skilled and matched athletes competing in the cage or ring, on a level playing field and to keep matches fair, competitive, entertaining, and most importantly safe for all combatants," the statement reads.

"At present level of scientific knowledge, the WBC consensus is that allowing transgender athletes to compete raises serious health and safety concerns."

The organization asserts that a trans-identified male "may have an unfair advantage" over a biologically female competitor and that a female identifying as a man would be at a disadvantage against a biologically male fighter.

"There is no consensus whether a bout between a transgender woman against a cisgender (biological) woman is a fair bout between two equally matched competitors," WBC continued.

The organization expressed concern that because trans-identified males who compete in professional boxing have "already gone through puberty," they have the musculature and bony structure of a male."

FINA, which governs competitive swimming worldwide, and USA Powerlifting have implemented policies requiring athletes to compete against members of their biological sex instead of their stated gender identity in some or all cases.

USA Powerlifting stated in 2019 that men have "increased body and muscle mass, bone density, bone structure, and connective tissue," which, on average, give biological males an advantage over their biologically female counterparts in competitive sports.

At least 18 states have passed measures requiring athletes to compete on teams and in competitions that match their biological sex. These include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. 

In May, South Carolina became the 16th state to ban biological males from competing in girls’ sports after Gov. Henry McMaster signed the Save Women’s Sports Act.

In a Facebook statement, McMaster wrote that it was "common sense" that "boys should play boys sports and girls should play girls sports."

"We have to do everything we can to protect the young men and women in our state who choose to pursue athletic competition, and that's why I proudly signed this bill into law," the governor stated.

The progressive coalition SC United for Justice & Equality denounced the law's passage. Coalition leader Ivy Hill said the legislation "harms young people in our state."

"Transgender youth are not a threat to fairness in sports, and this law now needlessly stigmatizes young people who are simply trying to navigate their adolescence, make friends, and build skills like teamwork and leadership, winning and losing," she stated.

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