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Health Minister Mark Butler has defended the decision by world swimming governing body FINA to effectively ban transgender athletes from competing, saying elite sports must weigh “the stressors and endurance” to decide who could participate.

“At the end of the day, sports governing bodies have to govern the operations of their sport, especially at the elite level,” Butler told the ABC on Tuesday.

Mark Butler has deferred to sports authorities on the issue of transgender participation.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“Sports have had legal tools for many years here in Australia, to make decisions about participation in their sport, particularly where their sport involves strength and endurance factors. And this has apparently happened in world level when it comes to swimming. So that’s how it should be.”

FINA announced on Monday that it had ruled that transgender athletes could only compete in women’s swimming events if they had completed their transition by the age of 12, meaning they would have to have taken puberty blockers from an early age.

The International Rugby League announced on Tuesday that it would follow FINA’s lead and the NRL is weighing its position.

Butler said transgender sports rules were part of “a very sensitive debate that needs to be conducted in the most respectful way possible”.

“We have to be very careful not to politicize [this debate]and not to put vulnerable Australians in the middle of a political debate,” he said.

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Asked if Australia should invest more in transgender medical research to enable sports bodies to inform their decisions with better science, Butler said research spending was decided by independent experts “from a peer-reviewed way, rather than politicians making decisions about a particular research project.”

Regarding the rise in COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths linked to the ongoing pandemic, Butler said Australia still had “all the way through this pandemic” and wanted to improve recall rates. , especially in the care of the elderly.

Butler said COVID-19 vaccines for children under age 5 could be approved within weeks, with the Therapeutic Goods Administration currently evaluating Moderna’s application to have its vaccine approved for that age group.

“It is normal for these authorities to feel that they are able to carry out their work, their legislative work, in a timeframe that suits them,” he said. “And I expect that to happen over the next few weeks.”

Julio V. Miller