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“I don’t know of any other policy that is not supported by research”: Dr Beth Jones talks about the IOC’S guidelines targeting transgender female athletes

When last Monday the Brazilian MMA transgender fighter Anne Veriato (who was born a man but felt like a woman) – that is going to make her debut in man’s MMA next March 10th – said that “never crossed my mind to fight a women” because she was “too good” and “would not be fair”, everyone seemed to accept the statement as a universal truth.

In a way, the international Olympic Committee (IOC) contributes to this idea. The last time their policy on transgender athletes was updated in 2016, based on the Consensus statement written in November 2015, the new guidelines applied different rules for female (man to woman) and male (woman to man) transgender.

The guidelines for sports organisations included the end of gender reassignment surgery as an eligibility requirement, what allow man to compete without restrictions. However it’s not true about female transgenders: in this statement was recommended that women transgenders should only compete if they prove to have – during at least the previous 12 months before the first competition – a maximum testosterone level of 10 nanomoles, a rule based on the assumption that testosterone gives an athletic advantage.

Sports Gazette went online to find out if there was evidence to support that hyperandrogenism – medical condition characterized by excessive levels of androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone) – provides an unfair advantage in athletes and found a recent literature review – one of the few that exist about the topic – called “Transgender in Sport: Is the perceived athletic advantage real?”.

The review published in October 2016 concluded that there was “no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals (or male individuals) have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition (e.g.: cross-sex hormones, gender-confirming surgery”) and so, apparently, at least in the end of 2016 there was no reason for this rule.

But we are now in 2018 and maybe things have changed since then. So we talked with Dr Beth Jones, one of the authors of the review, who explained that there are no further developments or new findings since she published her study (at least that she is aware of) probably because “this type of research will be costly and difficult to recruit for.”

When I asked her if maybe other sporting organisations would be keen to introduce a new policy, she explained they tend to follow the IOC one:

“The IOC updated their policy in 2016 to allow transgender athletes to compete without surgery, however transgender females still have to take CHT. This policy has not been updated since. The IOC is very influential and therefore other large sporting organisations tend to copy their policies”

Embed from Getty Images

Subtitle: Texas Wrestling State Torunament on February 24, 2017. Trinity junior Mack Beggs (on the right) is in a process of transitioning from female to male. She wants to fight in the boys’ division but Texas high schools require athletes to compete under the gender on their birth certificate. Beggs is in the process of transitioning from female to male and taking a low-dose of testosterone.

According to IOC’s transgender women athletes policy they are only authorised to play in women’s sports if they have a testosterone level below ten nanomoles per litre for at least a year. Is this discriminatory?

“It depends on the sport. If you can prove that testosterone gives an athletic advantage in a sport, then this rule makes sense. At the minute, the relationship between endogenous testosterone and athletic ability is not very well understood. So yes, until research says otherwise, I think it is discriminatory. I don’t know of any other policy that is not supported by research.”

If Dr Jones is right and, in fact, there is still no research that supports IOC’s rule, that means its discriminatory, and by extent, maybe sports organizations should think of alternatives ways to categorise sport competitions to make it equal and accessible to all. According to Beth Jones it’s always going to be dependent on the sport but there are some evident ways:

“It depends which sport. The most obvious way to make some sports (as weight lifting, wrestling and Taekwondo to name a few) more inclusive is to have strength, weight and skill/ability categories instead of being categories by binary gender”.

However, even if professional sporting organisations are apparently not keen to change their policies, at a lower level there is, slowly, some small signs of change:

“Some smaller sporting organisations are starting to become more inclusive though. For instance, I have recently seen a gender inclusive strength competition [called Limitless] set up in the UK in which categories are divided by ability and not gender. It is probably a long way off until we see something like this within large sport organisations and competitions”.

Why?

“Potentially because the awareness and acceptance of transgender people (until quite recently) has been minimal”.

Featured Image credit: Ted Eytan
José Bourbon
José Bourbon was born in Lisbon, Portugal. He completed his first degree in Social and Cultural Communication at Universidade Católica Portuguesa, in Lisbon. In the summer of 2015 he had the opportunity to work alongside some of the best journalists in Portugal during an internship at Expresso, one of the most famous newspapers in Portugal. He also played a part in the creation of BETup – an entrepreneurship news website that he worked on for six months. José currently writes for Winept, a Portuguese website dedicated to wine, but sports journalism is his main passion, specifically tennis and football. It goes without saying, José is also a Sporting and Portugal fan.
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