Olympics to open door to transsexual athletes
November 18 2003 12:00 AM ET
Athletes who have undergone sex-change operations will be eligible to compete in the Olympics for the first time under new rules being finalized by the International Olympic Committee. The IOC 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 last week. "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 has not 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 transsexual athletes in line to compete in next summer's Athens Olympics, but he noted that 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 transsexuals.
Some contend male-to-female 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," said Arne Ljungqvist, the IOC medical commission chairman who organized the meeting of experts in Stockholm.