Fair Play: Restrictions Against Transgender Athletes at Olympics to be Lifted

By Sheryl Estrada


Due to new guidelines of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), by the start of the Summer Olympics this year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, restrictions for transgender athletes in regards to their ability to compete willbe removed.

Female-to-male transgender athletes are eligible to compete in the men’s category without restriction. Gender-reassignment surgery is no longer required.

Male-to-female transgender athletes must identify themselves as female for four consecutive years. And, for at least one year before their first competition, trans women must prove that their testosterone level has been below a certain limit.

Caitlyn Jenner, a high profile transgender individual who was formerly Bruce, is a 1976 Olympic decathlon champion. Jenner has brought global attention to gender reassignment surgery as she underwent the procedure last year.

The new IOCguidelines state:

It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are notexcluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition.The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of faircompetition.

Since 2004, transgender athletes have been able to participate in the Olympic Games. However, both surgery and a minimum of two years of hormone therapy were required, and a change in gender had to be legally recognized.

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“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” Joanna Harper, a medical physicist at Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon, told OutdoorSports.com on Thursday. “Hopefully, organizations such as the ITA will quickly adapt to the new IOC guidelines and all of the outdated trans policies will get replaced soon.”

Harper, who is a transgender woman, was one of the medical experts who joined Olympic officials at the “Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism” held last November in Lausanne, Switzerland. The new guidelines originate from that unpublicized meeting.

“The waiting period for trans women goes from two years after surgery to one year after the start of [hormone replacement therapy],” Harper said. “This matches up with the NCAA rules and is as good as anything. The waiting period was perhaps the most contentious item among our group and one year is a reasonable compromise.”

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In an opinion piece for The Washington Post published in April, Harper addresses the question of whether trans women can compete equitably against other women. She says that in many sports, “the evidence supports an emphatic yes”:

Science provides a clear explanation for why, in many sports, trans women don’t maintain any athletic advantage Hormone therapy for trans women typically involves a testosterone-blocking drug plus an estrogen supplement. As their testosterone levels approach female norms, trans women see a decrease in muscle mass, bone density and the proportion of oxygen-carrying red cells in their blood. The estrogen, meanwhile, boosts fat storage, especially around the hips. Together, these changes lead to a loss of speed, strength and endurance all key components of athleticism.

Rather than rules or regulations, the IOC guidelines are intended as recommendations for international sports federations and other bodies to follow.

“I don’t think many federations have rules on defining eligibility of transgender individuals,” IOC Medical Director Dr. Richard Budgett said. “This should give them the confidence and stimulus to put these rules in place.”

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