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IOC Will Reconsider Guidelines For Allowing Trans Athletes To Compete


The Tokyo Olympics shattered records for trans athletes. Just to name a couple, Canadian soccer midfielder Quinn became the first known trans and nonbinary athlete to win gold, and New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbert was the first out trans woman to compete in an individual event. After the games, the International Olympic Committee is reviewing its guidelines for allowing trans athletes to compete. The current policy, decided in 2015, says that trans women are allowed to compete in women's sports if they've been on testosterone-suppressing medication for 12 months. The IOC is now considering changing the part of the policy that sets the testosterone levels for all female athletes. Our co-host A Martinez spoke with freelance sports journalist Britni de la Cretaz about what these updated regulations could mean.

A MARTÍNEZ, BYLINE: So now the IOC has admitted that their regulations on transgender athletes are not fit for purpose. So what does that mean? And what are the changes that are going to be coming?

BRITNI DE LA CRETAZ: We actually don't know what the changes are going to be. They were not announced before the Tokyo Games because they were having trouble coming to an agreement on them. There are some people who believe that trans women really should not be allowed to compete at all. They want to completely exclude them. And there are some people who think the regulations should be loosened, not just for trans women but to benefit all women. So I think the question that we have to be asking is who the IOC is bringing to the table on this and if their goal is actual, real inclusion or if it is trying to both-sides an issue that really boils down to people's humanity. And I also think that they are talking a lot about fairness, but fairness is not an objective concept, and so we have to ask - fair to whom?

MARTÍNEZ: On that, the issue of fairness, is it inevitable, Britni, that the concepts of inclusion and fairness are going to be pitted against each other with one having to win out over the other?

DE LA CRETAZ: I think that when we talk about fairness, it is often in opposition to inclusion. And the idea of fairness is determined by kind of the dominant mainstream society. And so in, like, this case, what we are deeming fair is we are thinking about what is fair to cisgender athletes, how cisgender athletes feel about having to compete against trans women and trans people, rather than centering how the trans folks feel about being excluded and what's fair to them.

MARTÍNEZ: Since we don't know exactly what they're going to come up with, do we know when they're going to try and have this done by? And will it be up to maybe individual countries or sports federations to try and figure out rules on their own that the IOC can bring into the Olympics?

DE LA CRETAZ: So these should be rolled out, people are saying, within a couple of months after the Tokyo Games. And there is something interesting about the IOC's current policy in that it set, in 2015, these sort of trans inclusion guidelines, and then it's up to the international federations for each sport to set their own regulations. Many of them just looked to what the IOC had done because it made it easy to know that their athletes would be able to compete and qualify for the Olympics.

What you do have is some federations who have set their own policies, and one example of this is World Athletics. And they govern track and field, and this is actually why we've seen more track and field athletes being impacted by these restrictive policies. Caster Semenya, who has been fighting since 2012 to be able to compete - they are asking her to lower her testosterone level because the World Athletics' policy actually requires an even lower testosterone level than the IOC policy, and so the IOC will defer to the international federation in that case.

MARTÍNEZ: You mentioned Semenya, the South African middle-distance runner who should have been at the Olympics and instead is missing out on the prime part of her athletic career because the IOC hasn't been able to quite figure this out.

DE LA CRETAZ: Yeah. And what they're asking these athletes to do, whose testosterone levels are deemed, you know, quote-unquote, "too high" - and I think it's important to know that even in cisgender women, the range for testosterone, natural testosterone, is incredibly varied. But what these athletes are being asked to do is to take their birth control or estrogen or some medication that's going to lower their natural testosterone levels, and that can actually impact their health negatively. And so we're actually asking people to put their health at risk and to alter their natural body to, you know, meet these really arbitrary requirements that someone determined women should fit into.

MARTÍNEZ: Britni, even though the IOC is moving slowly and maybe not smoothly on this, do they get points for even addressing that they need to change things?

DE LA CRETAZ: The bar is on the ground - I'll be real frank with that. I am also incredibly concerned with the political moment we are in. We have seen these anti-trans sports bills introduced in over 30 states in the U.S., and so I really worry that these ideas and this current narrative and rhetoric and, like, real fear-mongering around trans women is going to kind of take over these regulations and have an impact on them. And so I'm really concerned about what we're going to see happen next. You know, this is the first Olympics that any openly trans women have qualified. We saw Laurel Hubbard compete in weightlifting, and instead of this being really celebrated, there has been so much writing and media coverage dedicated to tearing her down or saying that she is taking spots from other women who could have made it or, you know, ruining women's sports or is really a threat, even though she came in last in her event.

MARTÍNEZ: Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance sports journalist. Their new book is "Hail Mary: The Rise And Fall Of The National Women's Football League," and that book's going to be available in November. Britni, thanks a lot.

DE LA CRETAZ: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF OCTO OCTA'S "WHERE ARE WE GOING PT. 2") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.