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Under a proposal approved Monday by the International Olympic Committee executive board, transsexual athletes have been cleared to compete in the Olympics for the first time in the history of the Games. Athletes who have undergone sex-change surgery will be eligible for the Summer Olympics in Athens if their gender has been legally recognized and they have gone through a minimum two-year period of postoperative hormone therapy. The decision, which covers both male-to-female and female-to-male cases, had been postponed by the IOC in February on the basis that more time was needed to consider all the medical issues. Some members had been concerned whether male-to-female transsexuals would have physical advantages competing against women. Men have higher levels of testosterone and a 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. IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the situation of transsexuals competing in high-level sports is "rare but becoming more common." IOC medical director Patrick Schamasch said no specific sports had been singled out by the ruling. "Any sport may be touched by this problem," he said. "Until now, we didn't have any rules or regulations. We needed to establish some sort of policy." Until 1999, the IOC conducted gender verification tests at the Olympics, but the screenings were dropped before the 2000 Sydney Games. 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.