Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has told the heads of UK sporting bodies that “elite and competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex”.
Dorries met representatives from 15 sports including football, cricket, rugby, tennis and athletics plus UK Sport and Sport England bosses.
Swimming’s world governing body Fina recently voted to stop transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite events if they have gone through any part of the male puberty process.
Britain’s Olympic diving champion Tom Daley has said he is “furious” at Fina’s decision.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in April he did not believe transgender women should compete in female sporting events.
Dorries urged the governing bodies “to adopt the government’s unequivocal view” on transgender athletes competing in women’s sports.
She said that “clear direction is needed that protects and shows compassion to all athletes” and encouraged them to move to a position “where fairness takes priority in competitive sport”, which included considering “launching inclusive open categories where appropriate”.
Fina says it is aiming to establish an ‘open’ category at competitions for swimmers whose gender identity is different than their birth sex.
“Sport is for everyone, no matter where you’ve come from in life. It allows people to come together and perform on a level playing field, based upon basic fairness and the integrity of competition,” said Dorries.
“The government has the utmost compassion for people born into a body they don’t recognise. But we can’t pretend that sex doesn’t have a direct impact on a person’s athletic performance. Asking women and teenage girls to compete against someone who was biologically born a male is inherently unfair.
“I recognise that this is a complex and emotionally charged issue, so I welcome the support of our domestic governing bodies to protect and show compassion to all athletes. In the interests of sporting integrity, we must bring clarity to protect the future interests of sport around the world.”
For their part, the governing bodies said that they are “actively carrying out their own scientific research to establish the impact of athletes’ sex at birth and gender reassignment on athletic performance”.
UK Sport and UK England will report back to ministers on progress later in the summer.
Fina took the decision after a report by a scientific panel said that going through male puberty meant trans women retained a “relative performance advantage over biological females”, even after medication to reduce testosterone.
Former Great Britain swimmer Sharron Davies, who has argued against transgender participation in women’s elite swimming, told BBC Sport she was “really proud of Fina”.
However, ‘Athlete Ally’ – an LGBT advocacy group which organised a letter of support for transgender American college swimmer Lia Thomas in February, called the new policy “discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles”.
Cycling’s governing body, the UCI, recently toughened its rules on transgender eligibility.
In rugby league, transgender players have been banned from women’s internationals while International Rugby League (IRL) does further research on its policy.
Other world governing bodies, including World Athletics and Fifa, are now reviewing their inclusion policies.
World Athletics president Lord Coe hinted to the BBC that the sport could follow swimming’s example, saying it is set to discuss adopting a new eligibility policy and that “fairness is non-negotiable”.