From cycling to swimming, transgender sportswomen excluded from the top level…


From cycling to swimming via rugby league, several sports have just restricted the access of transgender athletes to female competitions, engaging a debate combining advances in research, sports equity and human rights.

In a few days, three federations responded to the call of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which on November 16 asked sports bodies to establish their own criteria to allow transgender and intersex people to compete at high level. The International Cycling Union (UCI) opened the ball last Thursday with a clear hardening, doubling the “transition period” (from 12 to 24 months) during which transgender women must have a “low” testosterone level before align themselves “in the category corresponding to their new gender identity”. Referring to “new scientific studies”, the cycling body lowers the permitted threshold on passing by half, from 5 to 2.5 nmol/L of blood, on the grounds that it is “the maximum level of testosterone that observed in 99.99% of the female population”. In the process, on Sunday, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) limited access to its female categories to swimmers “who became women before puberty”, a solution which excludes almost all transgender athletes, whose transition is generally more late. Shaken for months by the controversies concerning the American Lia Thomas, the first transgender swimmer to win a university title in the spring, FINA is considering the creation of an “open category” in addition to the women’s and men’s events, which would be unprecedented for all sports combined. Finally, the day before yesterday, the International Rugby League temporarily banned transgender players from women’s international rugby league matches until “a policy of full inclusion” has been established, which the organization hopes to give birth to. next year.

Sebastian Coe, President of the International Athletics Federation (World Athletics), for his part paved the way for a modification of its regulations by promising, without further details, to favor “equity” and “the integrity of the women’s sport” rather than the “inclusion” of transgender competitors.

The IOC leaves the hand

Far from being a coincidence, this salvo of positions was expected since the IOC gave up proposing uniform directives, as it had been doing since 2004, recalls Ekain Zubizarreta, sociologist of sport at the University of the Basque Country. The Olympic body then demanded a sex reassignment operation at least two years before the athlete’s request – criterion lifted in 2011 –, as well as a verifiable “hormone therapy” for “a period long enough to minimize the competitive advantages linked to gender”. But in the meantime, the nature of the discussion has changed, escaping endocrinologists or sports science specialists to “gain visibility”, as athletes and human rights activists seize it, underlines the researcher .

The debate has also been stimulated by the media and legal battle of certain intersex athletes, including South African champion Caster Semenya who suffers from hyperandrogenism (a high level of testosterone), which has forced the authorities to refine their regulations and reveal their sources. scientists. From now on, it is a question of both estimating the impact on muscle mass and endurance of high testosterone, as well as the time during which these effects last, but also of respecting “the primacy of health”. , the “right to privacy” and the goal of “inclusion” of elite sport, listed the IOC in November, delivering ten potentially conflicting principles.

Asked, the Olympic organization did not indicate whether it was ultimately considering a third category at the Olympic Games, leaving each body “to determine the threshold from which an advantage may become disproportionate, and to develop the mechanisms necessary to compensate”. The project, which is particularly complex for organizations with variable legal and scientific resources, is only just beginning: last Thursday, the UCI said it was “discussing with other international federations” a research program on “the evolution of physical performance of highly trained athletes undergoing transitional hormone treatment”.

Coralie FEBVRE/AFP

From cycling to swimming via rugby league, several sports have just restricted the access of transgender athletes to female competitions, engaging a debate combining advances in research, sports equity and human rights. In a few days, three federations responded to the call of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which asked for November 16…



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