Being transgender, the unsolved mystery of the Olympics

Being transgender in the world of sport is an issue that "doctors, scientists and sports committees have been trying to solve for years." However, not even experts in science and sport have managed to find a coherent solution to this problem, which encourages the exclusion and discrimination of these people. In this article we will focus on how this issue has developed throughout history at the Olympic Games, as it is the most important sporting event at international level.

Let's take a closer look at the current regulations for transgender athletes at the Olympics Games. In 2003 the IOC (International Olympic Committee) published its first consensus, the "Consensus on the reallocation of sex in sports". The Consensus concluded that only people who undergo an intervention to change sex and a legal recognition of that sex could participate in competitions of their "sense sex".

The second consensus was published in 2015, where the IOC updated its criteria, said its "IOC consensus meeting on sex reassignment and hyperandrogenism". In it, the IOC removed previous exigencies and established that those making the transition from woman to man are eligible to compete in the male category without restrictions and for those making the transition from man to woman, said they would be eligible to compete in the female category if they had declared their gender identity to be female and kept their testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter of blood. However, this was not the final solution, because this level of testosterone is more than five times the maximum level of testosterone that can occur in women.

These guidelines allowed the participation in the last Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020 of the first transsexuals. The most notorious case was that of Laurel Hubbard in female weightlifting, being the first openly transgender athlete to compete in an Olympic Games in a gender category different from her biological sex. Despite her defeat, the athlete left some statements: "I would especially like to thank the IOC, because I think it really affirms its commitment to the principles of Olympism and establishes that sport is something for all people, which is inclusive and accessible".

The Third and Final Consensus took place in November 2021, following the Tokyo Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee recognizes that its current guidelines for transgender athletes were not fit for purpose. Titled "International Olympic Committee Framework on Equity, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Bases of Gender Identity and Gender Variations", it is stated that the 2015 regulation to accept trans athletes is eliminated and The International Olympic Committee leaves the decision and regulation of the eventual integration of transgender people in each category to the concerned sports federations.

Although the International Olympic Committee has stated that "the practice of sports is a human right", it has also said that high competition sports cannot be considered a human right. For this reason, several judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (HUDOC) have recognized that fair competition is a legitimate objective and constitutes one of the fundamental pillars on which competitive sport rests. This has led many people to believe that the HUDOC will eventually conclude that the rules on eligibility for athletes with high levels of testosterone do not violate the principle of non-discrimination, since transgender women who do not wish to meet the required testosterone requirements for their eligibility may choose to compete in the male modality of the sport in question. What leads us to think that the real fear of the majority of sportswomen is that the inclusion of transgender women in the female categories will make them win the medals and, consequently, end up making less visible women in women’s sports.

After the renewal of these regulations, the IOC only specified that each Federation must avoid a "disproportionate disadvantage" to avoid excluding athletes because of their "gender identity". According to its communiqué, "everyone has the right to practice sport without discrimination and in a manner that respects their health, safety and dignity". I also claim that sex tests and "invasive physical examinations" used to verify an athlete’s gender were "disrespectful" and "potentially harmful”. “We really want to make sure that athletes are not pressured or coerced into making a detrimental decision about their bodies". The framework stresses that athletes should be part of the decision-making process and says these guidelines will be subject to periodic review to reflect "any ethical, human rights, legal, scientific and medical developments relevant in this area". This is a sensitive issue with multiple positions and opinions, in this case doctors and scientists say that "the inclusion of human rights is essential. But equally important is the inclusion of scientific and medical principles. And the IOC framework is not based on those principles".

Article by Monica Larios.


Adetunji, J (2021). A win for transgender athletes and athletes with sex variations: the Olympics shifts away from testosterone tests and toward human rights. The conversation.

De la Cretaz, F (2022). The IOC Has a New Trans-Inclusion Framework, but Is the Damage Already Done? Olympics.

Lau, J (2021). Will new Olympics rules exclude or include transgender athletes? OponDemocracy.

International Olympic Committee issues new guidelines on transgender athletes. News.

Morgan, L (2022). Medical experts criticise new IOC framework on participation of transgender athletes. Insidethegames.

Webb, K (2021). Olympics changing trans-athlete policy, will leave inclusion up to individual sports. Outsports.


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