The Olympics' Radical Policy Change On Transgender Athletes Could Open A Historic Chapter In Sporting Competition

"It is necessary to ensure ... that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate."

Thanks to the public transition of reality TV personality and Olympic gold medal decathlete Caitlyn Jenner, formerly Bruce, 2015 became the year of transgender visibility. Many have credited Jenner's transition with bringing widespread attention to transgender issues — which, before this, went woefully under-noticed — but it also brought up the question of Jenner's stellar athletic past. In an effort to catch up with current scientific, legal, and social attitudes on transgender issues, the International Olympics Committee's new policy on transgender athletes IS recommending that they be allowed to compete in international sporting events, including the Olympics, without having reassignment surgery.

According to the new IOC guidelines, athletes who transition from female to male are eligible to compete without restriction. But for trans female athletes, because people who are born male generally have more testosterone, there are certain restrictions in place, including demonstrating that their testosterone level has been below a certain amount for at least 12 months before their first competition. 

Most significant, perhaps, is that the IOC will no longer require transgender athletes to undergo gender reassignment surgery as a pre-condition to participating in a competition. "[Surgery] is not necessary to preserve fair competition and may be inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights," the document notes.

Under the IOC's previous policy, athletes were required to undergo reassignment surgery, as well as a minimum of two years of hormone treatment. 

The policy document states: "It is necessary to ensure insofar as possible that trans athletes are not excluded from the opportunity to participate in sporting competition. The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition."

While the guidelines are merely suggestions, not rules, for international sporting federations and the like to adopt for 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, it does open up the possibility for trans athletes such as American Chris Mosier, a triathlete and duathlete, to compete — which would be a first in Olympic history. Mosier had previously challenged the IOC's criteria for transgender athletes' participation, which he hints led to the IOC's policy change.

Cover image via Diego Barbieri / Shutterstock