Olympics to Stop Requiring Transgender Athletes to Undergo Surgery

The IOC outlined a series of new recommendations it says are consistent with human rights.
The Olympic rings are unveiled at a ceremony at Madureira Park in Rio de Janeiro on May 20, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Jan 25, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

There’s now one less hurdle standing in the way of transgender athletes with dreams of competing in the world’s most prestigious sports competition.

The International Olympic Committee has updated its guidelines, allowing transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics without first undergoing gender reassignment surgery. Prior to the new recommendations, which were first reported by OutSports and confirmed by The Associated Press on Sunday, trans athletes were only eligible to compete in the Olympics after undergoing surgery and completing at least two years of hormone therapy.

“Since the 2003 ‘Stockholm Consensus on Sex Reassignment in Sports,’ there has been a growing recognition of the importance of autonomy of gender identity in society, as reflected in the laws of many jurisdictions worldwide,” reads a document the IOC posted to its website. “It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition.”

The committee, which met in Switzerland in November to discuss the issue, stressed in the written recommendations that while the guarantee of fair competition remains an overriding objective, requiring athletes to make surgical changes to their body “may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.”

While hormone therapy is commonly prescribed to treat gender dysphoria, not all transgender people have the means or the desire to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Just a third of the transgender and gender nonconforming people surveyed by the Transgender Task Force in 2011 reported surgically transitioning. The American Medical Association recommended last year that sex reassignment surgery not be a requirement for changing gender designation on birth certificates.

The new IOC guidelines place no restrictions on the eligibility of transgender men to compete in the Olympics. Transgender women, however, must maintain a testosterone level below 10 nmol/L—as monitored by testing—for at least a year before their first competition and must also declare that their gender identity is female. The sports declaration cannot be changed for a minimum of four years.

The recommendations are in line with those adopted by the NCAA in 2011, which stipulate that transgender men can compete on either the men’s or women’s team without taking testosterone and that transgender women must take hormone therapy to play on a women’s team.

IOC medical director Richard Budgett told the AP the new guidelines are a scientific consensus, as opposed to a rule or regulation. “It is the advice of the medical and scientific commission and what we consider the best advice,” he said.