Green light for transsexual athletes to compete in Olympics
November 14, 2003 - 10:42AM
Athletes who have undergone sex change operations will be eligible to compete in the Olympics for the first time under new rules being finalised by the IOC.
The International Olympic Committee convened a meeting in Sweden last month of medical experts in the field and will announce its policy in the next few weeks.
"We will have no discrimination," IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch told The Associated Press today.
"The IOC will respect human rights."
Details are still being worked out, but Schamasch said transsexual athletes will be eligible for the Olympics once they have passed a certain amount of time after sex-change surgery.
"The trend is to have an ineligibility period," he said.
"Then after certain conditions have been fulfilled, the athlete will be able to compete in his or her new sex."
The exact length of the waiting period hasn't been determined. Schamasch said officials want to make sure that any side effects of hormone therapy have worn off.
Schamasch said he didn't know whether there were any potential transsexual athletes in line to compete in next summer's Athens Olympics, but noted several international sports federations have asked the IOC for guidance.
"We need to be proactive," he said.
The rule covers both male-to-female and female-to-male cases.
Some contend transsexual athletes have a physical advantage against other women.
Men have higher levels of testosterone and greater muscle-to-fat ratio and heart and lung capacity.
However, doctors say, testosterone levels and muscle mass drop after hormone therapy and sex-change surgery.
Until 1999, the IOC conducted gender verification tests at the Olympics but the controversial screenings were dropped before the 2000 Sydney Games.
One reason for the change was that not all women have standard female chromosomes.
In addition, there are cases of people who have ambiguous genitalia or other congenital conditions.
Over the decades, there have been various accusations of men impersonating women and competing in the Olympics.
"The eligibility of transsexuals to participate needs to be clarified and dealt with," Arne Ljungqvist, the IOC medical commission chairman who organised the meeting of experts in Stockholm.
One of the best-known cases of transsexuals in sports involves Renee Richards, formerly Richard Raskin, who played on the women's tennis tour in the 1970s.
Recently, Canada's Michelle Dumaresq made news competing as a mountain bike racer.
Formerly Michael, Dumaresq had sex reassignment surgery in 1996 and competed for Canada at last year's World Championships in Austria.
She finished 24th in the downhill discipline.
"I'm in contact with several other athletes with a trans history and some could qualify for the next Olympics," she said in an email message.
Dumaresq still has a licence to race. While mountain biking is an Olympic event, her discipline is not.