Olympics / Summer Olympics

Jessie Lau on Tokyo 2020, new rules for trans athletes, and their future

Jessie Lau examined the new rules for transgender athletes and how the IOC is decentralising decision making:

The Tokyo Olympics may be over, but the debate about how to build fair practices and policies for gender inclusion in sports is still raging. A recent US survey shows that more than a third of respondents believe transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete in the gender they were assigned at birth.

Within the next two months, the International Olympic Committee (IOC – the governing body for the summer and winter Olympics but not the Paralympics) is set to release a new framework for transgender athletes, after admitting that its current guidelines are not fit for purpose.

Dr Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and science director, told The Guardian that the framework “would focus on safety as well as fairness” and allow for individual sports federations to make their own decisions. This means the rules for rugby, say, could be different from those for marathon runners.

This comes off the back of decades of transphobia from the IOC, notably their treatment of Black transgender athletes, including Caster Semenya:

In 2003, it [the IOC] allowed transgender athletes to compete, but trans women were required to have “sex reassignment surgery” (now known as gender affirming surgery) to qualify. Since 2015, trans women have been allowed to participate if their testosterone levels remain below a certain threshold.

Yet this requirement too is flawed. Some Black female track athletes have naturally elevated testosterone levels and would have to artificially decrease the hormone in order to qualify for certain races. A few have refused to do this – South African 800m Olympic champion Caster Semenya is the most famous example. Others, including Namibian 400m runners Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi,​​ have been banned from competing.

For me, decentralisation ignores the inherent transphobia within the IOC and similar governing bodies and, quite frankly, passes the buck. We would hope that individual sports federations make the right decisions and improve trans inclusion and, more specifically, Black trans inclusion. But I’d rather wait for the results than live with greater expectations.

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