Saturday, August 27, 2016

Sex Reassignment and Olympic Competition

For the 2016 Olympics, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) established a clear and defensible policy regarding persons who have chosen to undergo sex reassignment, so that they may compete in Olympic sports. The new policy recognizes that gender identity should be a personal choice; that all athletes should have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics; and that Olympics competition should be fair.

With these three guiding principles in mind, the IOC has set forth the guidelines for persons who transition from male to female. A transgender woman who wants to compete in the Olympics must have identified herself as a woman for at least the past four years. After that, she need only prove that her testosterone levels have been below 10 nmol/l for 12 months before her first competition and remain at those levels throughout her period of eligibility. Testing to verify these levels may be required. A testosterone level of 10 nmol/l is below the level found in normal males. (Presumably there would be no athletic advantage for a transgender person who had transitioned from female to male, so such persons may compete as males without restriction.)

Some might argue that having undergone development as a male until after puberty might confer a competitive advantage and thus be unfair to other female athletes. But barring male-to-female transgender athletes from the Olympics altogether would violate both the first and second principles; that gender identity is personal and that there be a way for all athletes to compete. Unless the new rules unleash a flood of male athletes transgendering to female just to compete in the Olympics (and no one expects that), the IOC has done the right thing. Good for them!

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