Aug 17, 2016
IOC Updates Transgender Athlete Guidelines

This article first appeared in the July/August issue of Training & Conditioning.

Athletic organizations the world over have struggled with drafting legislation to address the participation of transgender athletes. Now, a groundbreaking ruling by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may provide an example for others to follow. The new recommendations allow transgender athletes to compete without having sex reassignment surgery.

The previous guidelines, which were adopted in 2003, required all transgender athletes to not only have the surgery, but also undergo at least two years of hormone therapy before being eligible for athletic events. Under the updated policy, the only condition remaining applies to male-to-female athletes, who will need to show their testosterone levels have been below 10 nanomols per liter for at least a year prior to competing. Female-to-male athletes will have no restrictions.

“The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition,” the IOC said in a statement on its website. “To require surgical anatomical changes as a precondition to participation is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.”

The new guidelines were proposed after a meeting of IOC officials and medical experts. Citing shifting attitudes on transgender athletes at a scientific, social, and legal level, the consensus among attendees was that the IOC’s requirements were due for a change. “It has become much more of a social issue than in the past,” former IOC Medical Commission Chairman Arne Ljungqvist told The Associated Press. “We had to review and look into this from a new angle. We needed to adapt to the modern legislation around the world. We felt we cannot impose a surgery if that is no longer a legal requirement.”

With all the barriers removed for female-to-male athletes, the new recommendations had an immediate impact on the international scene. Duathlon athlete Chris Mosier, the first-ever female-to-male transgender athlete to qualify for a U.S National team, was eligible to compete in the International Triathlon Union’s World Duathlon Championship in June. Male-to-female athletes still face some challenges, however, since it can take multiple years to get their testosterone levels under the required amount.

Beyond international competitions, the revised IOC guidelines are consistent with the current NCAA model and may provide guidance for all levels of competition. “I don’t think many federations have rules on defining eligibility of transgender individuals,” IOC Medical Director Dr. Richard Budgett told The Guardian. “This should give them the confidence and stimulus to put these rules in place.”

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