From cycling to swimming, trans female athletes excluded from the upper echelon…

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From cycling to swimming through 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 with a clear hardening last Thursday, doubling the “transition period” (12 to 24 months) during which trans women must have “low” testosterone levels. New gender identity”. Referring to “new scientific studies,” the bicycling body halves the allowable 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 trans athletes who transition often later. 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. all sports together. Finally, the day before yesterday, the International Rugby League temporarily banned transgender players from international women’s rugby league matches until a “full participation policy” is established, which it hopes to implement next year.

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

The IOC leaves its hand

Far from coincidental, this salvo of positions has been expected since the IOC stopped proposing uniform directives, as it had done since 2004, says Ekain Zubizarreta, a sports sociologist at the University of the Basque Country. The Olympic body then requested gender reassignment surgery and a verifiable “hormone therapy” for “long enough to minimize gender-related competitive advantages”, at least two years before the athlete’s request—the criterion was lifted in 2011. But meanwhile, the nature of the debate has changed, escaping endocrinologists or sports science experts to “gain visibility” as it’s taken over by athletes and human rights activists, the researcher stresses.

The debate has also been spurred by the media and legal battles of some intersex athletes, including South African champion Caster Semenya, who suffers from hyperandrogenism (high levels of testosterone), which has forced authorities to correct their regulations and explain scientists. . From now on, it’s a matter of estimating the effect of high testosterone on muscle mass and endurance and how long these effects will last, while respecting the “priority of health”, the “right to privacy”. ” and the goal of “inclusion” of elite sport, the IOC listed in November and presented ten potentially conflicting principles.

When asked, the Olympic organization did not specify whether it would ultimately consider a third category in the Olympic Games, 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: last Thursday, the UCI said it was “discussing with other international federations” a research program on “the evolution of the physical performance of highly trained athletes.” She is on transition hormone therapy”.

Coralie FEBRUARY/AFP

From cycling to swimming through 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. Three federations responded within a few days to the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) call requesting 16 November…