From cycling to swimming, trans female athletes excluded from the top

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From cycling to swimming via rugby league, many sports have restricted transgender athletes’ access to women’s competitions, sparking a debate that combines advances in research, sports equality and human rights.

Within days, the three federations responded to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) call on 16 November asking sports organizations to establish their own criteria for allowing trans and intersex people to compete at a high level.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) opened the ball on Thursday with a clear hardening, doubling the “transition period” (12 to 24 months) during which trans women must have “low” testosterone levels in the category. corresponds to the new gender identity”.

Citing “new scientific studies”, the cycling body halves the accepted threshold from 5 to 2.5 nmol/L blood, on the grounds that “the maximum testosterone level observed in 99.99% of the female population.” .

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the International Swimming Federation (Fina) restricted access to women’s categories to swimmers “women before puberty”; This is a solution that excludes nearly all transgender athletes who transition often later.

– IOC releases hand –

Shaken for months by the controversy over American Lia Thomas, the first trans swimmer to win a university title in the spring, Fina is considering creating an unprecedented “open category” in addition to the men’s and women’s competitions. for all sports combined.

Finally, on Tuesday, the International Rugby League temporarily banned transgender players from international women’s rugby league matches until a “full participation policy” is established, which the organization hopes to deliver next year.

Sebastian Coe, president of the International Athletics Federation, for his part, paved the way for a change in regulations by pledging to promote “equality” and “the integrity of women’s sport” rather than “inclusion” of sport, without going into further detail. transgender rivals.

Sports sociologist AFP Ekain Zubizarreta of Pays Basque University reminds us that this salvo of positions was more expected than coincidental, since the IOC stopped proposing uniform directives as it had done since 2004.

The Olympic body then requested gender reassignment surgery at least two years before the athlete’s request – the criterion was lifted in 2011 – and requested a verifiable “hormone therapy” for “long enough to minimize gender-related competitive advantages”.

– Scientists and activists –

But meanwhile, the nature of the debate has changed, with “gaining visibility” escaping endocrinologists or sports science experts, taking over by athletes and human rights activists, the researcher emphasizes.

The debate has also been spurred by the media and legal battles of some intersex athletes, including South African champion Caster Semenya, who have forced authorities to correct their regulations and disclose their scientific sources.

From now on, it’s a matter of estimating both the effect of high testosterone on muscle mass and endurance and how long these effects will last, while respecting the ‘health priority’, the ‘right to privacy’. , and the “inclusiveness” goal of elite sport, the IOC listed in November and presented ten potentially conflicting principles.

Asked by AFP on Tuesday, the Olympic organization did not specify whether it would ultimately consider a third category in the Olympics, leaving each body to “set the threshold at which an advantage may become disproportionate and develop the mechanisms necessary to compensate”.

Particularly complex for organizations with varying legal and scientific resources, the project is just getting started: On Thursday, the UCI said it was “discussing with other international federations” a research program on “the evolution of the performance of highly trained athletes.” transition hormone therapy.”

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