Olympics' Trans Athlete Guidelines Critiqued as 'Unfair'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 19, 2022

Austalian Olympic weighjtlifter Laurel Hubbard
Austalian Olympic weighjtlifter Laurel Hubbard  (Source:AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein,File)

A statement from "38 medical experts and leading sports health professionals" decries the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) new guidelines regarding trans athletes, claiming them to not be "scientific or medically based," UK newspaper the Daily Mail reported.

The statement suggested that the IOC's revised guidelines discount "the science on sex, gender and performance and focuses mostly on inclusion," UK newspaper The Guardian reported.

The statement, which was published Jan. 17 in medical journal Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, was signed by "individuals linked with the International Federation of Sports Medicine and European Federation of Sports Medicine Associations," the Mail said, adding that the "position paper criticizes the framework" the IOC crafted "for not prioritizing the safety of women competing in elite sport and warns that it could lead to athletes 'self-identifying' into the gender category of their choice."

One of the statement's authors, Professor Jurgen Steinacker, who serves as the chair of World Rowing's Sports Medicine Commission, told the paper that women in athletics "face biological disadvantages compared to cisgender males that must be mitigated against."

"If you create a definition of gender that is based on social rather than biological differences, then you effectively destroy the female category," Steinacker asserted.

The previous guidelines were established in 2015, the Daily Mail recalled, and "stipulated that trans athletes should be allowed to compete in the female category only if their testosterone-production was suppressed to below 10 nanomoles per liter for the 12 months before competition."

The article noted that "Many of the authors of the position paper" critiquing the new guidelines "were part of the consultation that led to" the earlier guidelines.

The new guidelines, however, say "that individual sporting federations should decide on their eligibility criteria," the article detailed. "It added that there should be 'no presumption of [competitive] advantage' on the part of a transwoman who has gone through male puberty."

Those very guidelines, the critics claim, "could lead to trans-athletes being arbitrarily excluded from sport because, as it stands, there is no clearly defined basis by which to include them."

Debate around trans Olympians has heated up following last summer's games in Beijing, in which "the weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, the first open trans woman to compete in an Olympics" participated. The statement also comes in the wake of "the US trans woman Lia Thomas, who recently set a number of collegiate swimming records."

Human rights advocates disagreed with the claims made in the statement.

"The case being made is to return to a bygone era of discrimination and exclusion justified by 'science,'" said sports policy expert Roger Pielke, Jr., who went on to add that "it'd be far more productive to work within the IOC Framework which is incredibly flexible when read fairly."

Dr. Alun Williams, with the Manchester Metropolitan University Institute of Sport, aimed for middle ground. "Simple solutions don't exist or we'd have found them already," Dr. Williams told the Daily Mail, adding that the IOC "must consider both scientific/medical issues and moral ones, and somehow balance them."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.