Men Will Officially Compete as Women in Next Olympic Games

Rio Olympics
Posters for the Rio Olympics (Reuters)

Two British male athletes who have undertaken sex reassignment surgery are to compete in women's events at this year's Olympic games, it has emerged.

If the unnamed athletes are selected by their sport's governing body, they will be the first transgender Olympians.

Many have strongly criticized the move due to the unfair advantage of greater size, muscle mass and lung capacity.

Altered Guidelines

International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines have been dramatically altered to allow transgender athletes to compete, even without having reassignment surgery. Instead, the athletes need only to declare themselves as male or female and show that their testosterone levels have been below a certain level for a year.

Earlier this year, the IOC issued a statement saying: "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."

Competed as 'Women'

The British athletes set to compete undertook sex reassignment surgery two years ago, and have since competed as "women."

"Delia Johnston," a man who identifies as a transgender woman and runs an organization called "Trans in Sport," said:

"They should be selected but they fear they will be deemed too tricky—too many issues, too much negativity."

Olympic team members are initially selected by their own sport's governing body. Nominees then go before a British Olympic Association panel to be ratified.

Johnston continued: "Their national sports federations are aware of their gender history.

"If they were in a gold or silver medal position, they would probably drop back because their fear of ridicule and total humiliation is so massive."

'Social Issue'

Under previous IOC guidelines, which were approved in 2003, athletes who transitioned to the opposite gender were required to have reassignment surgery, followed by at least two years of hormone therapy, to be eligible to compete.

Former IOC medical commission chairman, Arne Ljungqvist, who was among those involved in drafting the new guidelines, said the updated rules were driven by social and political changes. "It has become much more of a social issue than in the past.

"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.

"Those cases are very few but we had to answer the question. It is an adaptation to a human rights issue. This is an important matter. It's a trend of being more flexible and more liberal."

Level Playing Field

The possibility of transgender athletes has been met with concern as many believe this would create an unfair advantage for those born male and competing against females.

Christian Concern's Chief Executive, Andrea Williams, said that this removes the "level playing field" that should be foundational to sporting events.

"Athletes are routinely tested for performance-enhancing drugs in an effort to prevent cheating. Yet the biological advantage of being born male is ignored as sporting committees aim to adapt to today's societal norms.

"Those propagating these ideas argue that it is a human rights issue, yet there are many professions that require certain physical characteristics—optimal eyesight, or a certain build for jockeys or bodyguards, for example. The same concept should be applied here, as measuring testosterone levels will not guarantee fairness."

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