Sports

The Olympics Just Became Much Friendlier For Transgender Athletes

CREDIT: Shuttershock

Transgender athletes will no longer be required to undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to participate in the Olympics, according to documents obtained by Outsports on Thursday.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) reportedly updated its transgender guidelines at an unpublicized “Consensus Meeting on Sex Reassignment and Hyperandrogenism” last November, and the guidelines are expected to be adopted before the Summer Olympics in Rio later this year.

“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,” the new guidelines state. “It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition.”

Transgender athletes were first allowed to participate in IOC-run events in 2004, ahead of the summer games in Athens. However, the guidelines put in place then required those athletes to change their sex both legally and anatomically. Trans women also had to undergo two years of hormone replacement therapy post surgery in order to be eligible to compete.

Those rules have been criticized, not just because gender reassignment surgery is incredibly expensive and not accessible to all, but because genitalia itself has no relationship to athletic performance. The policy was “in all likelihood” intended only to prevent trans female athletes from competing with testicles and the associated higher testosterone levels, even though those levels can be chemically blocked without surgery.

Recently, the guidelines were being challenged by Chris Mosier, an American triathlete and duathlete who has qualified for the World Championships this June. Mosier, a trans man, was unsure if he would be able to compete in those championships since he has not undergone reassignment surgery, and the athlete was geared up to fight the IOC.

But according to the new guidelines, “those who transition from female to male are eligible to compete in the male category without restriction.”

Trans women have also seen their restrictions reduced — those athletes now only have to undergo hormone replacement therapy for a year before competing, and maintain regulated testosterone levels for the remainder of their Olympic eligibility.

“This matches up with the NCAA rules and is as good as anything,” Joanna Harper, chief medical physicist at Providence Portland Medical Center, told OutSports via email. “The waiting period was perhaps the most contentious item [at the IOC meeting on sex reassignment] and one year is a reasonable compromise.”

Overall, these regulations are a significant step forward for the IOC, which recently came under fire for holding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where very strict anti-LGBT laws were in place. Harper, a trans woman, came away from the meeting content.

“The new IOC transgender guidelines fix almost all of the deficiencies with the old rules,” she said.