The Olympics Takes a Big Step Toward Being Fully Trans-Inclusive

After complaints surrounding the way that rules governing the Olympics treat trans competitors, the Olympic governing body has released regulations that will make competing in the Olympics much fairer for trans athletes.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) which sets the rules underpinning the Olympic Games released a new set of rules last week that reforms the way trans sportspeople will be treated at future Olympic events. 

In the past, under the Stockholm Consensus which was adopted in 2004, trans athletes were welcome in the competition but were required to have undergone gender change surgery and must have had at least two years of hormone replacement therapy. Factoring in the waiting times for treatment and recovery times post surgical treatment, that could keep competitors out for a full four year Olympic cycle or even more, dashing many hopes of competing.

Readers who follow the Olympics closely may also remember the controversy (and anti-trans sentiments) that dogged South African sprinter Caster Semenya whose gender was questioned due to her record-breaking performances and her appearance not conforming to the expectation of her sex. As a result Semenya was subjected to dehumanizing speculation in the press and, eventually, a gender test that ultimately highlighted the complexity of gender and sex. Readers wanting to learn more about Semenya’s case can do so here.

Nevertheless, Semenya’s story and wider complaints that the IOC’s policies were failing trans athletes by relying on outdated ideas about gender affirmation therapy prompted a review, with the IOC meeting in November 2015 to discuss what it dubbed “Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism.” 

The new report, which is based on that November meeting, sees the IOC emphasize that it wants rules that “ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition.”

To accomplish that, the IOC says it will retire previous restrictions requiring trans athletes to have undergone physical change surgery in order to compete. The report recognizes that, “To require surgical anatomical changes as a pre-condition to participation is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.”

This teamed with other policy reforms removes the restrictions faced by trans men completely, meaning they will be eligible to compete alongside cis men without any additional constraints. Trans women still face some restrictions however, but they have been praised for being carefully tailored to be only as intrusive as seems necessary for maintaining existing sporting and drug policies.

As such the prospective trans competitor must have formally declared her gender and have evidence of that gender identity being consistent. Also, she cannot then change her gender (for competition purposes) for a minimum of four years. Critics might be quick to point out that, in many places in the world, such a declaration could be impractical because formally changing gender markers is still highly politicized, but swapping this for the gender change surgery seems, at the very least, several steps in the right direction. The second restriction says that a female competitor’s level of testosterone in serum must have been “below 10 nmol/L for at least 12 months prior to her first competition,” as well as the athlete’s total testosterone level staying around that same level during the competition season. The eligibility window appears to be left open to interpretation so there would be some scope to accommodate if a trans woman had an issue with medication that was out of her control.

The new rules say that compliance with these conditions will be tested for and if a competitor is found to have violated these rules she may be suspended from competing for a period of 12 months.

Joanna Harper of Providence Portland Medical Center is quoted by Outsports as saying that the new rules “fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules”:

“The waiting period for trans women goes from two years after surgery to one year after the start of HRT,” 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.”

While the IOC changes won’t technically change the way other sporting bodies operate, the reported changes may go some way in setting new more inclusive standards that the rest of the sporting world could follow. Groups like the International Triathlon Union, which oversees World Championship events, are expected to adopt these policies in due course but other governing bodies may take more time. Nevertheless, this kind of inclusion is meaningful and hopefully will help young trans athletes in particular know that living their lives gender aligned no longer needs to cost them their sporting dreams.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

50 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Lone W.
Lone W1 years ago

I do not care what the Olympics do, a nice trans woman makes a great lover. That is what I care for.

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Carole R.
Carole R1 years ago

Thanks for posting.

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 1 years ago

Great

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Margo C.
Margo C1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Sue H.
Sue H1 years ago

Good to know, thanks.

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Brett Cloud
Brett C1 years ago

Tyfs.

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Brett Cloud
Brett C1 years ago

An overdue step.

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Donna T.
Donna T1 years ago

thank you

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S M.
S M1 years ago

Competitive athletics no longer the natural best wins!
With technology, diets, foreign training places better than home, hidden drugs, sex status now ! The athlete just part of a system. Like in Europe the local football team has no players, personal associations with the town or city any longer and being the stimulus in a game so pride in winning and boasting of being a better town over the other,

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